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Spanish tuna vessel arrested for shark fishing off Gabon

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Spanish tuna vessel arrested for shark fishing off Gabon

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DAKAR (Reuters) - The crew of a Spanish tuna fishing vessel have been arrested off the coast of Gabon for illegally catching sharks without the proper licence and stripping them of their fins, marine conservation group Sea Shepherd said on Monday.

The Senegalese-flagged vessel Vema, which has a license to fish only for tuna, was found on Sept. 22 to be carrying about two tons of sharks and shark fins, mostly of blue sharks - a species classified as "near-threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It was carrying no tuna.

U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said in a statement that Vema and its crew were intercepted as part of a joint operation by authorities from Gabon and São Tomé, in coordination with the society.  

"It is alarming that industrial fishing vessels, many from Europe, continue to massacre sharks under the guise of tuna licenses," Sea Shepherd said.

Viewed as a status symbol, shark fin is typically eaten in China and some other parts of east Asia.

Fifteen percent of Atlantic shark species are now endangered. Over 70 million sharks are killed annually, pushing over a quarter of species into extinction, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

While there is no global ban on shark finning, international law under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) bans the trade in some species whose populations have fallen to crisis levels due to increased Chinese demand.

(Writing by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Tim Cocks, Richard Balmforth)

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