The Basking Shark is currently not listed as a protected or restricted fish species under Irish National marine or conservation legislation. A wildlife trusts sponsored action plan has prompted a review of status in the Northern Ireland Wildlife Order 1985. Basking sharks are protected from capture and disturbance in British waters (up to 12 miles offshore) under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). They are also protected within the territorial waters of the Isle of Man and Guernsey. Target fishing is prohibited in EU waters and Internationally by EU registered vessels. (EC No41/2007 of the 21/12/2006 and equivalent Norwegian regulations). In the Mediterranean they are protected under the Bern Convention (with EU reservation) and Barcelona Convention (un-ratified). Directed fisheries are prohibited in New Zealand, but by-catch is landed. Through out North American waters target fishing for basking sharks is prohibited but by – catch is landed in both nations. Basking sharks are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List in 2007 and endangered in the Northeast Atlantic and North Pacific.
In 2002 the basking shark was successfully proposed to appendix II of the International CITES list by the UK and Australian governments. They are also covered under CMS Appendix I and II and Annex I of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Sustainable mortality and by-catch rates have been calculated by Canadian researchers which show that the current by- catch in the Atlantic Canada region is above their calculated sustainable mortality in the species and therefore the Atlantic Canada population is estimated to be on a negative trend (CSAS 2008). European and West African by – catch reports suggest that offshore target fishing, in particular deep –sea gillnet fishing total allowable catch (TAC) levels and by –catch are currently too high and under regulated to enable sustainable shark populations (Berrow, 1994, Pauly, 2002, Lack & Sant, 2008, OCEANA, 2007).
ICUN guidelines echo what the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Working Group on Elasmobranch Fishes (WGEF) advises to member states that no target fishery of basking sharks is permitted until a reliable estimate of a sustainable level of exploitation is first established.
Conservation and Research
Up until the late 1990’s and early 2000’s little research had been carried out on the Basking Shark especially in the North-eastern Atlantic. To date, only two pieces of scientific research have been published from Irish coastal waters, which were both initiated by Dr S. Berrow in 1994. Between 2007 and 2008 a number of media articles were published to raise awareness of a tagging project conducted to determine the site fidelity of basking sharks in Irish coastal waters (Berrow, S.D., 2008, IWDG 2008, Derry Journal, 2008).
In recent years a number of different research projects have been completed on the basking shark in neighbouring territorial waters. Notably comprehensive ship- transect surveys of UK coastal waters, a number of geo-location satellite tagging projects and the co-ordination of public sightings into a comprehensible database. Public awareness and education programmes were also run in conjunction with these studies (Bloomfield & Solandt, 2006). Numerous tagging and tracking projects have also been initiated around the Gulf of Maine and North to Newfoundland by notable Canadian and U.S.A. based research institutes (CSAS, 2008). During 2008 the Canadian Government sponsored an Arial survey of its Pacific seaboard with the intention of ascertaining a population estimate of Basking Sharks. No sharks were recorded (Dulvy et al, 2008).