European and Australian Proposals to Weaken Indian Ocean Shark Finning Ban Defeated

Australia responds by stating support for landing sharks with their fins still naturally attached

European and Australian Proposals to Weaken Indian Ocean Shark Finning Ban Defeated

BALI, INDONESIA — Proposals from the European Community (EC) and Australia that threatened to create new loopholes in the Indian Ocean ban on shark finning – the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea  -- were defeated today at the annual meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). The outcome resulted in a statement from Australia in favour of prohibiting shark fin removal at sea altogether, as recommended by conservationists and scientists.

The EU had proposed two new options to replace the existing method for enforcing the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) finning ban with untested methods which involved placing severed shark fins in plastic bags or numbering and separately storing bodies and fins.  Australia proposed a similar option for storing fins attached to shark bodies, but not necessarily in plastic.

"We are pleased by the defeat of the dangerous EC proposals that threatened enforcement of the Indian Ocean shark finning ban and promoted increased use of plastic bags at sea; however the Shark Alliance remains concerned that the IOTC did not adopt its scientific committee advice to require that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached, which is by far the best method for preventing finning and collecting shark fisheries data, " said Sonja Fordham, Shark Alliance Policy Director.

"We encourage the European Commission to collaborate with its conservation community and not only its fishing industry when developing and negotiating international shark fishing proposals," Fordham continued. 

Shark Alliance representatives brought to the meeting a letter signed by 70 conservation, scientific, fishing & diving organizations opposing both proposals because of concerns about enforcement and risks that plastics pose to wildlife. The 70 groups called on the IOTC to instead simply ban the removal of shark fins at sea.

During the IOTC meeting, the EC and Australian proposals were merged and the reference to plastic removed, but loopholes that could allow unpunished finning remained.  Opposition to changing the finning ban’s ratio from Japan and Korea resulted in the defeat of the joint proposal.  Australia reacted by expressing a general view that landing sharks with their fins naturally attached was the best option for dealing with the associated scientific and enforcement issues.

Like most international fisheries bodies, the IOTC enforces its finning ban by limiting the weight of shark fins on vessels to 5% of the weight of the shark bodies on board, in an effort to ensure amounts are proportional.

The EC proposal on finning rules for IOTC was a complete departure from the European Commission’s brand new European Community Shark Action Plan.  The EU Plan includes a commitment to strengthen the EU finning ban by reducing the fin to carcass ratio, currently the highest (and therefore most lenient) in the world. The EC proposal for IOTC, however, aimed to abolish the ratio system, in line with industry wishes, in favour of new methods that are likely even more difficult to enforce. 

“The European Commission claims that the most important goal of its proposal to overhaul the Indian Ocean finning ban was to address the need for scientific data on shark catches, but IOTC scientists have clearly stated that the best means for collecting this information and for enforcing the finning ban is to have sharks landed with their fins naturally attached,” added Sandrine Polti, Fisheries Policy Advisor for the Shark Alliance.  “To secure a better future for sharks, the EC should cooperate with its conservation community and Australia to advance proposals for prohibiting the removal of shark fins at sea in all oceans.” 

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