The Shark Alliance welcomes the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers March 19 decision to adopt a position in favour of the European Commission’s proposal to strengthen the EU finning ban by requiring that all sharks be landed with their ‘fins naturally attached’. Only Spain and Portugal opposed this move.
The EU banned finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea) in 2003, but the regulation has serious loopholes, which undermine its effectiveness. Although the regulation generally prohibits shark fin removal on-board fishing vessels, it allows for derogations through ‘special fishing permits’ granted by Member States. Fishermen onboard permitted vessels can remove shark fins whilst retaining the carcass. An excessive fin to carcass weight ratio limit (5% of the shark’s whole weight) is used to judge whether fins and bodies landed are in the appropriate proportion. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, fishermen could fin an estimated two to three sharks for each one landed and not exceed this high ratio limit, meaning that finning may be taking place undetected and unpunished.
Portugal and Spain, the only EU Member States still issuing special permits, grant approximately 200 of them to most of their long-distance freezer longline vessels, which amount to the EU’s largest shark fishing fleet.
Improvements in the EU Finning Regulation were urged by the European Parliament in 2006, debated during consultation on the EU Shark Action Plan in 2007, and promised with the final plan in 2009. In December 2010, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for a proposal to prohibit the removal of shark fins on-board vessels.The Commission consulted on options for change in late 2010, receiving overwhelming support for this approach, and, in November 2011, proposed amending the regulation to require that all sharks be landed with their ‘fins naturally attached’.
In order for the Commission’s proposal to become the rule, it must also be supported by the European Parliament. The Parliament’s Fisheries and Environment Committees are currently debating the issue.