11/22/2012 - After years of debate and procrastination, the European Parliament voted today to close major loopholes in the European Union’s ban on shark finning, the practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea.
“The European Parliament’s vote is a major milestone in ending the wasteful practice of shark finning,” says Uta Bellion of the Pew Environment Group in Europe. “We profoundly thank the EU’s Maria Damanaki for her farsighted and ambitious proposal, the hundreds of Members of Parliament who have supported it and most of all, the thousands of EU citizens who encouraged them to do so.”
Since 2003, removal of shark fins from bodies on board vessels has been banned in Europe, but this ban included an exception under which fishermen with permits could remove shark fins on board and then land them separately from the bodies. Compliance with the finning ban was monitored through a complicated process of measuring and comparing the weights of the fins with the theoretical weight of the live shark bodies.
This left significant room for undetected finning. The only permits that are still issued go to large Spanish and Portuguese longline vessels that catch sharks, mostly without limits, all over the world. In fact, each year, EU vessels are estimated to catch more than 100,000 tonnes of sharks and rays. A year ago, the European Commission proposed ending the permits because of difficulties with enforcement.
All that is required now for the new regulation to enter into force is the endorsement of this vote by EU fisheries ministers. Then, fins will be required to be left naturally attached to all sharks caught in EU waters and by EU fishing vessels globally, and a major hurdle for shark protection will have passed.
Among the most vocal supporters of the proposal is the Shark Alliance, a coalition of more than 130 organizations dedicated to science-based shark conservation in Europe. Initiated and coordinated by the Pew Environment Group, the Alliance is a diverse group that has been working toward stronger shark conservation measures in the EU for more than six years.
Landing sharks with “fins attached” is recommended by the EU Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries and by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. With today’s vote, the EU joins Central America, the United States and Taiwan in implementing a fins-attached policy.