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New studies about the problems with shark fin to carcass ratio limits

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As the European Parliament debates proposed amendments for the EU finning regulation, two new peer reviewed papers to be published in the Journal of Fish Biology examine shark fin-to-carcass ratios and the impact this has for enforcing finning bans.

The EU banned finning in 2003, but the associated regulation has serious loopholes.  In particular, fishermen granted “special fishing permits” may cut shark fins off at sea and land the parts separately. A fin to carcass weight ratio limit is used to judge whether fins and bodies landed are in the appropriate proportion. The EU fin to carcass ratio is set at 5% of the shark’s whole weight. This ratio limit is impossible to accurately measure as the shark is no longer whole during such inspection, but instead dressed (i.e. after its fins are removed and stored separately, and its head and guts usually discarded at sea). In addition, this ratio is about twice as high as weight ratios used in Canada and several other countries (5% of a shark’s dressed weight). Currently, EU fishermen with special permits could fin a substantial number of sharks without exceeding the lenient ratio limit, meaning that finning may be going undetected and unpunished.

Blue shark Prionace glauca fin-to-carcass-mass ratios in Spain and implications for finning ban enforcement’ by Julia Santana-Garcon, Sonja Fordham, and Sarah Fowler examines the processing of fins from blue sharks caught by the Spanish longline fleet and landed in Vigo, Spain, and implications for enforcing the EU finning ban. “The significant differences in fin-to-carcass-mass ratios between fin sets or cutting procedure demonstrates that the ratio limit is problematic and, conclusively, in order to facilitate proper enforcement, fishermen should be required to land all sharks with the fins still naturally attached to the bodies.”

‘A global review of species-specific shark-fin-to-body-mass ratios and relevant legislation’ by Leah Biery and Daniel Pauly reviews ratios for 50 shark species as well as existing shark fishery regulations. "Due to the complications presented by the development and enforcement of species and fleet-specific regulations, finning bans which require that sharks be landed with fins attached are ideal. When sharks are landed with fins attached, it is easier for trained observers at landing sites to record the number, mass and species of sharks landed, making data collection and monitoring more straightforward and accurate.”

Based on previous, similar conclusions from scientists and other experts, the European Commission has proposed an end to the EU special fishing permits so that all sharks are landed with their fins naturally attached.

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