The Marine Management Organisation has issued guidance following the recent landings of porbeagle sharks, a species considered critically endangered in the North East Atlantic.

Porbeagle sharks, also known as mackerel sharks, are related to the mako, white and thresher shark families. Within the Northern Hemisphere they are usually found in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean, as far north as Iceland and Russia, down to Morocco and Madeira, but not often in the North Sea.

Since 2010, commercial fishermen in the EU have been prohibited from landing porbeagle sharks. When accidentally caught, the species must be returned to the sea and, wherever possible, they should be released unharmed.

This is because, within the North East Atlantic, the porbeagle shark is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Under the EC’s annual quota regulation for certain fish stocks (Council Regulation (EC) 43/2012) porbeagle shark is subject to a zero total allowable catch in EU waters. It is also prohibited for EU-flagged fishing vessels, operating in all waters, to fish for, retain on board, tranship or land porbeagle sharks. A similar restriction exists for any third country vessels operating in EU waters.

Neil Wellum, Head of Marine Conservation and Enforcement for the Marine Management Organisation, said "Given the extensive coverage of restrictions around this critically endangered species of shark, we advise people in the seafood industry to avoid the sale or purchase of porbeagle shark unless the provenance of the fish has been clearly established as coming from non-EU waters and non-EU vessels. The measures in place are designed to give the porbeagle shark population in the North East Atlantic a chance to rebuild.

"If commercial fishermen catch this shark accidentally – and this could not have reasonably been avoided – then there is no offence, as long as they do not land it or keep it onboard. It must be returned to the sea."

The advice for commercial fishermen with regards to porbeagle sharks at this time is: if caught alive it must be returned to the sea unharmed – if in doubt, also return it to the sea if it is already dead, it must not be retained and landed the catch must be recorded in your logbook.

What does a porbeagle shark look like?

The porbeagle is a large, powerful shark, mainly found in pelagic waters but sometimes in coastal areas. Its most distinguishing feature is a white patch on the trailing edge of the dorsal fin.

Adult porbeagle sharks commonly measure 200-219 cm (female) and 155-177 cm (male), although the largest recorded specimen was 365 cm.

It can be found from the surface to a depth of 715 metres and its prey is primarily bony fish such as mackerel, pilchard, and herring, as well as cephalopods.