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Commission closes shark-finning regulatory loopholes

21.11.2011 - 13:44

On 21 November, the European Commission proposed to prohibit, with no exemptions, the practice of 'shark finning' aboard fishing vessels. Shark finning is the practice of cutting off the fins of sharks – often while they are still alive - and then throwing back into the sea the shark without its fins.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said: "By closing the loophole in our legislation, we want to eradicate the horrendous practice of shark finning and protect sharks much better. Control will become easier and shark finning much more difficult to hide. I very much look forward to the Council and the European Parliament accepting our proposal, so that it becomes law as soon as possible."

This proposal strengthens the existing EU legislation banning shark finning, which allows by exemption and under certain conditions, to remove fins aboard and to land fins and shark carcasses in different ports. The forbidding of shark finning will no longer make this possible. Specifically, the Commission proposal provides that from now on, all vessels fishing in EU waters and all EU vessels fishing anywhere in the world will have to land sharks with the fins still attached. Consequently, member states will not be able to issue special fishing permits, which allow for vessels that fly their flag to be able to fin on board.

Nevertheless, the Commission has allowed fishermen to slice partly through each fin and fold it against the carcass of the shark to facilitate storage and handling onboard vessels. The aim of the new rules is to better protect vulnerable shark populations across the world's oceans.

Previously, the EU Shark Finning Regulation 2003 allowed fins adding up to 5% of a shark’s whole weight to be landed – which corresponds to a dressed weight ratio of 10% or more. Although fin to carcass ratios vary among shark species, most species’ fins weigh much less than 5% of their whole carcass. Higher ratios meant that many more sharks could be finned without fear of prosecution. Additionally, other loopholes in the regulation allowed vessels to land and/or transship (landing cargo and shipping it out again on another vessel without it leaving the port area) fins separately from the corresponding shark carcasses, which made effective monitoring all but impossible. This major loophole was not part of any other finning ban in the world.

Shark finning is a major problem against the conservation of sharks.  The general consensus agrees that anywhere upwards of 100 million sharks and rays are caught each year. This hugely unsustainable figure has lead to a decline in many shark populations of up to 80% and in some populations to a 95% reduction.

Additionally, in recent years, an increase in the average wealth of consumers and an improved efficiency of catch methods have lead to further exploitation of shark populations. This has pushed up prices with a large whale shark fin now commanding upwards of $15,000. The current rise in the market price continues to make shark fin an extremely valuable commodity in what is a totally unsustainable industry.

Therefore, this proposal is a welcomed push for the fight against this devastating trade.