You’d be forgiven for thinking that the very existence of national environmental laws creates an obligation on Environment Ministers to protect the environment. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Instead, their obligations are limited by the objects and duties that are specified in the law. And in the case of our...
Australia’s role in the global shark fin trade is scrutinised in a new report, ‘Management of Shark Fin Trade To and From Australia’, released today by Humane Society International Australia (‘HSI’), the Australian Marine Conservation Society (‘AMCS’), and the Environmental Defenders Office (‘EDO’). The groups are calling for stronger controls to ensure Australia is not contributing to the already unsustainable shark fin trade imperilling species worldwide.
Sharks play a crucial role in maintaining healthy marine environments, but globally, more than a third of sharks and rays are threatened with extinction. At least 63 million sharks are killed each year, with several oceanic sharks and rays species having declined by 70% in just the last 50 years. Shark finning – a brutal practice of cutting off the fins and discarding the remainder of the often still alive shark at sea – and poor traceability in the fin trade has and continues to obstruct shark conservation efforts.
Australia exports shark fins into the China and Hong Kong markets, and imports a significant volume of shark fin, including from countries that do not ensure sustainable fishing practices.
The report reveals that these imports and exports are subject to few, if any sustainability tests and the need for stricter controls is critical. It also criticises a lack of accuracy in Australian import and export data, casting doubt over the identity of species caught and the scale of the shark fin trade in and out of Australia. Meanwhile, regulatory gaps in Australian legislation leave the door open for unsustainable and illegal shark finning.
The report provides recommendations to ensure Australia is not contributing to an unsustainable shark fin trade overseas or at home. Recommendations include;
- Ban shark fin imports and exports unless sharks are landed whole with fins naturally attached. This prevents live finning and allows proper identification of species.
- Improve identification of shark catch onboard through the use of observers, logbooks, and electronic monitoring (e.g. on-board cameras).
- Implement a national shark fin traceability system, demonstrating lawful provenance from the point of capture to final sale or export, including alignment with the the most recent internationally recognised trade codes for shark products.
- Implement recommendations and best practice management measures outlined in international agreements and previous government commissioned reports.
“Australia needs to do more to ensure it is not exacerbating the unsustainable and destructive shark fin trade. We have fallen behind other countries and cannot lay claim to best practice. As a developed country we have the capability and technology to do much better. Conserving shark populations is vital for global ocean health,” said Lawrence Chlebeck, marine biologist for Humane Society International Australia.
While all fishing jurisdictions in Australia have legislation designed to prevent live shark finning at sea, the report finds there remains a risk that this is still occuring in some state/territory-managed fisheries in Western Australia, Queensland, and the Northern Territory. The complete absence of “fins naturally attached” legislation in Western Australia, and its partial application in Queensland and the Northern Territory makes it very difficult to ensure confidence that finning isn’t happening or that fins aren’t from an endangered shark.
Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist at AMCS said, “Half of all Australians aren’t even aware we trade in shark fins, let alone how inconsistent and weak our anti-finning rules are. Australia’s anti-finning rules are behind those in the United States, the European Union, Canada and several Mediterranean countries.”
“We’re far from the gold standard when it comes to managing the shark fin trade in Australia, but we can get back there. Keeping the fins on all sharks landed stamps out finning, prevents endangered species entering the trade, and disincentivises trading fins unless you’re willing to pay the expense of exporting or importing the whole shark with its fins on,” said Dr. Guida.
Environmental Defenders Office Head of Policy and Law Reform Rachel Walmsley said: “There are serious gaps in the regulation of the shark fin trade in Australia. Current tracking of shark fin, both within Australia and with overseas markets, is inadequate to ensure that shark catches are lawful and sustainable.
“Today’s report brings the science together with the policy to recommend a series of actions state and federal governments can take to improve the management of Australia’s shark populations.”
- According to official reporting by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Australia is ranked in the top 20 nations that import shark fins. Source: Dent, F. & Clarke, S. 2015. State of the global market for shark products. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 590. Rome, FAO. 187 pp.
- Examination of Australia’s trade in hammerhead shark fins revealed inconsistencies in importers’ records that suggest illegal shark fin exports from Australia at worst, and poor accounting and record keeping at best. See https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2021-05-20/hammerhead-shark-fins-endangered-export-records/100057850
Image credit: Sonja Fordham