EU bans practice of chopping off shark fins
By Philip Ebels
The European Commission on Monday (21 November) announced a full ban on "shark finning" - the practice in which fishermen cut off the dorsal fin of a shark and throw it back into the water, often while it is still alive.
"We want to eradicate the horrendous practice of shark finning and protect sharks better," said EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki in a statement.
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Shark fin is a prized ingredient for soup in China and growth in the country's middle-class has sent global demand soaring.
Accurate estimates are difficult to come by. The UN says 10 million sharks a year - almost 30,000 a day - are currently being finned. But conservationists say the true figure is much higher.
Meanwhile, several shark species are in danger of extinction.
"The EU's new rule is a big step forward for shark fishery management as it will make it easier to monitor and regulate some of the world's largest shark fisheries," says Shelley Clarke, a fish scientist based in Japan and a former associate researcher at Imperial College in London.
EU waters, in particular those of Spain and Portugal, are among the world's largest suppliers of shark fin to the Asian markets.
The new rule, which will still have to be approved by the European parliament and national ministers in the course of the coming year, declares: "All vessels fishing in EU waters and all EU vessels fishing anywhere in the world will have to land sharks with the fins still attached."
The idea is that fishermen will not want to lug around low-value shark carcasses just to fin them when they get to shore and will switch to catching different fish.
The practice of finning as such has been banned since 2003, but "a huge loophole" in the current EU regulation, according to Sandrine Polti of the Shark Alliance, a coalition of global shark-conservation groups, allowed member states to process sharks on board and take shark fins and bodies to separate ports.
"It is one of the weakest regulations in the world," she said.
The fishing industry, meanwhile, is less happy.
"We are very surprised and disappointed," said Guy Vernaeve of Europeche, the EU association of fishing enterprises. "We are against the practice of finning when it concerns tossing the body back into sea. But we did ask to be able to separate the fins from the body onboard and take them to separate ports, because they end up in different commercial circuits. The fins go to Asia, the meat goes to Europe."
The article originally said the regulation would be applicable immediately. This was corrected on Tuesday (22 November) to say that parliament and member states have to agree the new law first.