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Ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fins      

Marine Conservation

Ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fins

HSI is proud that our lobbying and media campaigns have already led to shark finning bans in most state and commonwealth waters in Australia. However one of the main drivers for the worldwide decline in shark numbers is the insatiable appetite for shark fins. HSI is campaigning for laws in Australia which will ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fins, to bring an end once and for all to this cruel and unnecessary practice by reducing the demand.

Why is there demand for shark fins?

One of the main drivers for the worldwide decline in shark numbers is the insatiable appetite for shark fins. These fins are used in shark fin soup, a status symbol in Asian cultures, served at important banquets and weddings. Ironically shark’s fin itself provides no flavour, nutritional or medicinal value to those who choose to eat it. In fact, research is increasingly showing that high levels of mercury and other toxins may actually make the shark fin soup a threat to human health. But still demand increases. 

What is the problem?

Scientists estimate that between 26 and 73 million sharks are killed every year for their fins. This is an unsustainable rate, which the world’s shark populations cannot sustain. With demand in China and other Asian countries for shark fin soup increasing and more of the population being able to afford shark fin soup, the concern is that the number of sharks being killed each year is actually much higher.

However this is not just an issue of sustainability. The price attained for shark fins far outstrips what a fisher can obtain for the meat, making the rest of the shark effectively worthless. As a result an estimated 98% of the shark is thrown back into the sea unused. This process is not only wasteful, but shockingly cruel. Sharks are dragged onto fishing boats, their fins sliced off whilst they are still alive, and the shark thrown back overboard, left to die a slow agonising death, either from drowning or loss of blood. The evidence of this practice has been witnessed by many divers, who have found sharks stranded on the bottom of the ocean, finless but still breathing, surrounded by the corpses of their kind who had suffered a similar fate. And all for a bowl of soup. 

International efforts to stop shark finning

Worldwide, the plight of sharks is starting to gain attention. More and more countries and individual states are putting in place laws that ban the trade and possession of shark fins, in an attempt to curb this cruel and wasteful practice. In the United States, the States of Hawaii, California, Maryland and Illinois already have these laws in place, and other states are currently considering putting in place similar laws. In addition in Canada a number of cities also have bans in place such as North Vancouver and other cities in the State of British Columbia.

Other countries are taking different action. In 2009 Palau put in place the world’s first shark sanctuary, banning the fishing of sharks in their waters in recognition of the fact that sharks are worth far more alive to their tourism industry, than they are dead in a bowl of soup. Since then the Bahamas and Honduras are among other countries that have followed suit. More recently India and the European Union have strengthened their laws, with India adopting a ‘fins naturally attached’ policy in August 2013. 

What about in Australia?

HSI is proud that our lobbying and media campaigns have already led to shark finning bans in most state and commonwealth waters in Australia. In Commonwealth waters and some states fishers are required to land the sharks with their fins attached, a measure used worldwide to ensure not only that sharks are not cruelly thrown overboard alive, but also a mechanism to reduce the number of sharks caught by fishers. It takes up far more space to bring back a whole shark with its fin attached than it would to bring back just its fins. This ‘fins attached’ measure is increasingly being seen as the benchmark in international fisheries management, in an attempt to reign in the indiscriminate slaughter of shark populations, and provide some form of control. Prior to a ban on finning however, Commonwealth tuna fisheries in Australia were catching and finning an estimated 50,000 sharks a year.

HSI is now urging the Australian Government to work with other countries that have also introduced finning bans to promote an international ban on the practice. We are also working hard to improve State and Territory legislation to ensure that there is a requirement for all sharks to be landed with all their fins attached.

However Australia’s waters are still not immune to these threats as there is evidence that illegal shark fishing and finning activity is taking place in our waters. Illegal fishers have been found off our northern coastline where boats have been apprehended full of shark fins, having plundered our shark populations. 

Whilst some sharks, such as the great white shark, are protected under our laws, commercial shark fisheries that target shark species for their fins are still sanctioned. Many of Australia’s shark fisheries, such as those managed by the States and Northern Territory, do not know what species of shark are being caught; management measures, such as shark quota allocations, are not based on scientific information, and an overall knowledge of the basic biology of the majority of shark species caught is fundamentally lacking. 

There is also the possibility of illegal activity in nationally managed fisheries; for example, the best data available obtained from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry indicated an export of 178 tonnes of dried shark fin from Australia in 2011-2012, approximately the amount of shark fin from 13,000 tonnes of whole shark. However, Australia has reported an average annual shark catch to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of around 8,000 tonnes over the past five years. 

What is HSI doing?

HSI is actively working to get better protection for sharks in Australia and worldwide. We are campaigning for laws in Australia which will ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fins, to bring an end once and for all to this cruel and unnecessary practice by reducing the demand. This includes writing to restaurants that are selling shark fin soup and urging them to stop selling shark fin products and commit to no longer doing so in the future.

Even in Australia, there is no way of assessing which species of shark the fin comes from in either imported or exported commodities. This situation means that although the practice of live shark finning is illegal in Australia, Australia is still supporting the cruel practice by both importing fins from countries that still allow shark finning, and supporting the international unregulated trade in shark fin by exporting with no traceability. This means that despite our laws in Australia, shark fin purchased here may be from sharks that have been finned alive.

HSI believes that the introduction of legislation to prohibit the trade and possession of shark fins would be a huge step forward in Australia’s shark conservation efforts, and one that would be wholly in line with efforts underway internationally. 

HSI has also been part of an ongoing international campaign to end the transportation of shark fins by airlines. As of 5th August 2014, 24 airlines have gone ‘shark free’ including Thai Airways, Cebu Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways, Air Seychelles, Philippines Airlines, Air Asia, Garuda Indonesia, Korean Airlines,  Asiana Airlines, Emirates,  Eva Air (Taiwan), Qantas, Air New Zealand, Qatar Airways, KLM, Swiss, FinnAir, Lufthansa, Lan Chile / LATAM Airlines Group (Chile), and Aeromexico (Mexico) have all issued public statements that they will stop transporting shark fins. Fiji Airways / Air Pacific and Cathay Pacific / Dragonair have stated that they would only transport ‘sustainable’ shark fin products although Cathay Pacific / Dragonair are yet to implement their policy.

And hotels are getting in on the act too. So far Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International and Starwood Hotels have announced a ban on shark fin products at their hotels.

What can you do?

Look out for shark fin soup on menus of Asian restaurants – if they serve shark fin soup ask them to go ‘shark fin free’, letting the restaurant know of the cruel and unsustainable nature of shark fins. Please let HSI know of any restaurants in your local area that sell shark fins and we will also write to them.

HSI's campaign to ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fin is part of our broader shark conservation program. For more information click here

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