The official definition of shark finning is “removing the fins from a shark while still on the fishing vessel and dumping the rest of the shark overboard.” Not only is the practice of shark finning incredibly wasteful (less than 10% of the weight of a shark is used) but it is extremely cruel as they are still alive when thrown back into the ocean. Many species of sharks need to be constantly moving in order to breathe, scientifically referred to as “ram ventilation.” Without their fins, swimming is not possible. Instead, they meet their demise as they slowly sink down and either bleed to death, are eaten alive, and/or drown. Various films around the world have highlighted this horrific end many sharks meet, with late marine biologist Rob Stewart’s Sharkwater inspiring many to try and change this narrative.
However, many people believe that any shark that had its fins cut off is a victim of “shark finning.” Here are two examples of sharks in situations that do not fall under “shark finning”: 1) if a shark is brought to shore (on land) with the fins attached and then has the fins cut off or 2) if the shark is brought to shore (land) without fins attached.
A recent study showed that nearly all shark scientists and natural resource managers are opposed to the inhumane practice of finning. When the results of this study were published, many complained that these same people did not support previous “fin ban” legislation that was attempting to be implemented worldwide. This legislation made it illegal to buy, sell, or possess shark fins which sounds great if you quickly glance over the proposal and didn’t read the fine print. For those who did, they realized that all sharks find would be banned— even if they were caught based on science-based fishing quotas, there are no threatened species being caught, monitoring and reporting are enforced and accurate, there are bycatch mitigation strategies in place, etc. Those opposed to this “fin ban” instead proposed shark fishery management strategies that were comprehensive in that they addressed all issues and allowed for well-managed fisheries to buy and sell sustainable fins.
Yes, you can catch sharks sustainably! And this new policy shows just that, making it so that all sharks landed must be brought to shore with their fins naturally attached to their body. This move to completely ban the removal of shark fins at sea is the first of its kind, and the international fisheries management body hopes it will put an end legal loopholes that could lead to undetected finning. “We applaud Mediterranean fisheries managers for taking this important step toward preventing the wasteful and indefensible practice of shark finning,” said Ali Hood of the Shark Trust on their website. “We are particularly grateful to the EU for being a persistent champion of fins-attached requirements. This policy is essential not only for properly enforcing finning bans but also for gathering vital information on shark catch.”