STRASBOURG - The Shark Alliance welcomes the European Parliament’s vote to close loopholes in the European Union ban on shark finning, the practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea. After years of debate, 566 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favor of a report endorsing the European Commission’s proposal to require that fins be left naturally attached to all sharks that are brought to port.
“Parliament’s vote represents a major milestone in the global effort to end the wasteful practice of shark finning,” said Sandrine Polti, EU shark policy adviser for the Pew Environment Group and policy adviser for the Shark Alliance. “Our diverse coalition has been working toward this and other fundamental reforms in European shark policies for more than six years and is thrilled with today’s vote and the progress we expect to stem from it.”
The 2003 EU regulation that banned finning included an exception under which fishermen with permits can remove shark fins on board and then land them separately from the bodies. Compliance is monitored through a complicated process of measuring and comparing the weights of the fins with the weight of the whole shark, which leaves significant room for undetected finning.
The European Parliament called for improvements in the EU finning ban in 2006 and urged the commission in 2010 to propose an end to at-sea shark fin removal. The Commission’s proposal, released in November 2011, was endorsed by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament’s Environment Committee in the spring of 2012. The Parliament’s Fisheries Committee deliberations have been lengthy and at times confused, with several MEPs fighting hard to maintain loopholes.
“We congratulate the European Commission for leadership in this long effort and extend our gratitude to the 25 EU Fisheries Ministers and hundreds of MEPs who supported a stronger EU finning ban, as well as the tens of thousands of European citizens who encouraged them to do so,” Polti said.
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The Shark Alliance is a coalition of more than 130 organisations dedicated to science-based shark conservation. The Shark Alliance was initiated and is coordinated by the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Finning is driven by the demand for shark fin soup popular in some Asian cultures.
EU vessels land more than 100,000 tonnes of sharks and rays (mostly blue sharks) from around the world annually. Spain is consistently responsible for more than half of these landings and three-quarters of the blue sharks taken.
Currently, EU fishermen with special permits can remove shark fins at sea as long as bodies are also retained. Compliance is monitored with a complicated and lenient fin-to-carcass weight ratio limit that leaves room for undetected finning. Spain and Portugal are the only EU Member States still issuing such permits.
The ‘fins-attached’ method is recommended by the EU Scientific, Technical, and Economic Committee for Fisheries and by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It is also cited as the preferred means of finning ban enforcement in multiple United Nations Resolutions and the Convention on Migratory Species Shark Conservation Plan.
An increasing number of countries worldwide, including those in Central America as well as the United States and Taiwan, are implementing ‘fins-attached’ policies.
The only permits that are still issued go to large Spanish and Portuguese longline vessels that catch sharks, mostly without limit, all over the world. A year ago, the commission proposed ending the permits because of difficulties with enforcement.