FISHING industry workers are to be given training to identify shark species in a drive to protect the threatened fish in the North Sea.

The scheme aims to improve the recording of species that are caught by fleets, to boost knowledge of individual shark populations.

It is hoped the project, which will target fishermen and wholesalers in Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough, will provide data to help manage shark stocks more sustainably, as more than half of British shark species are threatened with extinction.

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Globally, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, but the number caught by fleets overall is higher as many are caught accidentally as bycatch by vessels catching other fish.

The numbers of sharks, skates and rays, which are slow-growing and slow to reproduce, have declined significantly since commercial fishing began, conservationists said.

The scheme by the Co-operative, the Shark Trust and the commercial fishing industry will see fishermen supplied with guides to identify species such as the small-spotted catshark, the starry smoothhound shark and the cuckoo ray.