Nov 22

Among the most majestic and formidable creatures to inhabit the world’s oceans, sharks are also some of the most threatened. In the same way that populations of African elephant and Sumatran rhino have been ruthlessly decimated for their valuable tusks, sharks around the world have been mercilessly killed for their valuable fins. Shark fin soup is seen by some as a traditional delicacy and symbol of status and power, and demand is still growing in Asian markets.

Smooth hammerhead, Sphyrna zygaena

The fins of the smooth hammerhead are highly prized, and represent around 45% of fins auctioned in Hong Kong.

A lenient EU fishing policy has meant that European fishermen are responsible for roughly a third of the Asian shark fin trade. The practice of removing the valuable fins from the shark and throwing the carcass back into the ocean has developed because the body of the shark is worth much less than the fin itself. Although the EU finning regulation prohibits the removal of shark fins at sea, a loophole in the EU law allows Member States to provide fishermen with special permits to ‘process’ sharks (and remove fins) on-board fishing vessels.

Blue shark, Prionace glauca

The blue shark is one of the most heavily fished sharks in the world.

In 2003, the EU attempted to prevent finning under these permits by introducing a ‘maximum fin weight to carcass weight ratio’. However, the ratio is currently far higher and much more lenient than other countries – at more than twice the scientific-based IUCN guide standard – meaning that at present, fishermen are able to fin an estimated two out of three sharks without detection or punishment.

Great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias

The mighty great white shark is targeted for flesh, skins, oil and fins.

Hopefully this will soon change. The Shark Alliance – a coalition of more than 100 organisations dedicated to improving shark conservation policies – has for many years highlighted the inadequacies of the EU shark finning regulations. It is now supporting an option to amend the EU ban on shark finning, which would require that fins remain naturally attached to shark bodies until fishing vessels return to port. Scientists agree that this requirement will be the best way to enforce finning bans, and will also result in better species-specific catch data which is vital for improved conservation and management of European shark populations.

Basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus

Traditionally hunted for its valuable fins and liver, populations of the basking shark have decline by as much as 80% since the 1950s.

A public consultation by the European Commission was announced last week and will run until 21 February 2011. Supported by the Shark Alliance, a proposal will be sent to the EU Council and Parliament next year, in a bid to substantially strengthen EU shark finning regulations.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

  • Daryl Stafford (November 23rd, 2010 at 7:20 pm):

    This is something I feel so strongly about and have been campainging for about 12 months now. If there’s a consultation that’s got to be good news.

  • Laurel @Expat in Germany (November 25th, 2010 at 4:47 pm):

    Great info! We tend to think of shark fin soup as an “Asian problem” when really the EU is also a large part of the problem.

  • Joanna (December 12th, 2010 at 2:12 am):

    We need to do everything that is possible to stop the haunting! New information and education program to the Chinese population should be developed and distributed through large campaigns. Chinese must change their way of thinking of animals and not only sharks but also tigers and animals in general. I’m glad to hear that a proposal has been sent to EU, but with the new status China has I’m very worried. But we must never give up, never!

  • Wendy (August 3rd, 2011 at 5:36 pm):

    Please stop slaughtering these innocent animals. This is so cruel.
    Stop this immediately

  • Donna Sall (August 4th, 2011 at 2:56 pm):

    The oceans need the sharks…. Please stop the killing.