Remember 1975? This was the year when Steven Spielberg hit the screens with “Jaws”, the thriller about the man eating great white shark that terrorised the fictitious Amity Island. The movie has sparked an enormous increase in shark hunting and sharks are today hunted simply as a sport, but also for commercial reasons.
Each year 75 million sharks are killed solely for their fins and these end up in shark fin soup – the recipe is simple: chicken broth, mushrooms, and, of course, shark fin. It is considered quite a delicacy. Though it is served in restaurants across the world, Asia remains the largest consumer of shark fins. But do you know who the world’s largest exporter of shark fins is? That’s right, the European Union.
Because shark fins are considered a luxury item whereas shark meat is worth less and seen as taking up precious storage space, sharks used to be finned alive. The bodies where thrown overboard and bled to death. This practice of finning and discarding the shark bodies is a huge waste of resources and it is cruel to animals. Indeed, one could compare the practice of finning to the killing of elephants for their ivory tusks.
Because sharks are slow in reproducing and late to mature, several species are now under the threat of extinction. Hammerhead sharks have declined by 99% in the Mediterranean. If we lose sharks, there will be an imbalance in the oceanic ecosystem which will result in long term damage.
What can we do to counter this?
The European Union has already put in place a Shark Finning Ban in 2003. Since then many EU fishermen have indeed changed their practise. The fishing industry has been active in trying to commercialise also the bodies of sharks. This means that today both the fins and the bodies are sold on the markets. This shark finning ban has brought so much publicity that some member states are simply not handing out shark fishing licenses any more.
The shark finning ban does however have some potential weaknesses. It has exemptions that make it difficult to control, such as the shark fin removal permits in some EU member states. Another weakness is that the fins and the body are sometimes landed in different ports, so you cannot be sure that finning does not occur.
When one takes all these issues into consideration, one thing becomes clear: we must close all loopholes we may have in EU legislation on shark finning. The European Parliament has already called for an end to shark finning and I wholeheartedly applaud them.
The European Commission on its side has started a consultation process –it ends on 21 February 2011- in order to determine possible ways forward to strengthening the shark finning ban. http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/partners/consultations/shark_finning_ban/index_en.htm
Looking at other parts of the world Costa Rica has already adopted a successful and practical fins attached method which is also storage efficient, and several Central American countries, the US and parts of Australia have followed suit.
Please write to me on how we can move forward!