HSI urges European Commission to strengthen EU ban on shark finning

09 Mar 2011

Humane Society International/Europe has urged the European Commission to prohibit the removal of shark fins onboard vessels without exception.

In its submission to the recent public consultation on the amendment of the existing EU legislation on sharks, HSI highlights the inadequacies of the present ban and calls for the EU to adopt a ‘fins naturally attached’ policy.

Tens of millions of sharks are killed every year to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup in East Asia. For many of these sharks, this involves slicing off the fins when the animal is still alive and dumping the body back into the sea.

The present EU ban on shark finning is one of the weakest in the world. Not only does it contain an exemption that allows fishermen to legally remove the fins from carcasses onboard if they have been granted a ‘special fishing permit’ to do so, but it also allows fins and carcasses to be landed at separate ports, which means that there are no checks on whether the volume of shark fins being landed corresponds with the volume of sharks.

Spain and Portugal obtain these permits for almost all of their surface longline vessels, making the issuance of these “special” permits the norm, rather than an exemption.

Fishermen who are granted such permits may land severed fins that weigh up to 5% of the live (whole) weight of the shark. In theory, this is meant to reflect the average weight of a shark’s fins in relation to its body and thereby prevent finning. But the fin-to-carcass ratio is one of the highest in the world and is so lenient that it is theoretically possible for as many as two out of three sharks caught by EU fishermen to be finned.

Says HSI’s EU Director, Joanna Swabe:

“It is high time that the EU closed the loopholes in the present ban on shark finning. How can catches be monitored effectively when the carcasses are landed in Spain and the fins in Fiji? Who is weighing the carcasses and fins to check that they’re within the legal weight ratio? Landing sharks with their fins attached is the only way to tell whether or not sharks have been dumped at sea. A ban on the removal of shark fins onboard vessels without exception is the only way that the EU can help put an end to the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning.”

HSI/Europe hopes that the Commission will finally put shark conservation and animal welfare above the demands of the fishing industry and deliver a strong legislative proposal later this year; as demanded by the European Parliament in December 2010.

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