Shark Advocates International (SAI) is joining the chorus of conservation groups worldwide heralding the recent European Parliament vote to close loopholes in the European Union (EU) ban on shark finning (the wasteful process of slicing off a shark's fins and discarding the body at sea). The vote represented the culmination of six years of intense campaigning and debate.
On November 22, Members of the European Parliament voted 566-47 in favor of a proposal from the European Commission to prohibit removal of shark fins on board fishing vessels (and thereby require that all sharks landed still have their fins naturally attached). This policy is widely recognized as the simplest and most reliable method for enforcement of shark finning bans. Because sharks are more readily identifiable when their fins remain attached, this strategy can also facilitate the collection of sorely needed, species-specific catch information. The measure faced formidable opposition from representatives of Spain and Portugal, Europe's leaders in catch of oceanic sharks.
The current regulation associated with the EU finning ban, adopted in 2003, includes loopholes that allow shark fins to be removed on board and landed separately from shark bodies, hampering both enforcement and accurate catch records. SAI President, Sonja Fordham, has worked alongside EU-based colleagues of the Shark Alliance coalition toward strengthening the EU finning ban since 2006.
The EU is a top exporter of shark fins to Asia, due in large part to the vast shark fishing operations of Spain and Portugal (ranked 3rd and 16th in the world for shark catches, respectively). Because the EU has great influence at international fisheries bodies, the overwhelming signal from Parliament holds great promise for combating finning on a global scale.
While the Parliament's vote represents a significant achievement in shark conservation, and strong finning regulations are fundamental to responsible fisheries management, it is important to note that finning bans alone will not save sharks. SAI remains committed to securing complementary safeguards, including science-based limits on shark catch and trade, in the EU and elsewhere.
Parliament's final report now goes back to the European Commission and EU Fisheries Ministers as part of the process to finalize the regulation. SAI will continue to work with our Shark Alliance colleagues, including Shark Trust and Project AWARE, to encourage swift finalization of the amended EU finning regulation, and to encourage the EU to work more closely with the United States government to promote this best practice worldwide.