European Parliament closes loopholes in shark finning ban

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European Parliament closes loopholes in shark finning banMEPs removed exceptions to the EU ban on “shark finning” – i.e. cutting off fins and dumping carcasses at sea – in a vote on Thursday. These exceptions required fishermen to keep carcases on board, but they made the ban difficult to enforce, as by allowing boats to land fins and bodies at different ports, they made it hard to match fin and carcass counts.

The ban, in place since 2003, prohibited removing shark fins on board vessels. Thursday’s vote removes the exceptions, which took the form of special permits to remove fins at sea. Sharks must henceforth be landed with their fins “naturally attached”. The resolution was adopted with 566 votes in favour, 47 against and 16 abstentions.

The special permits suspended the ban so as to allow finning on those vessels “where a capacity to use all parts of sharks has been demonstrated.” However, after processing on board,, fins and carcasses could be landed in different ports, making it difficult to match fin and carcass counts and hence to detect dumping.

Rapporteur Maria do Céu Patrão Neves (EPP, PT) sought to retain the exceptions, whilst narrowing their scope, so as to allow only freezer-fishing vessels to fin sharks at sea and oblige them to land the fins and processed sharks’ bodies in the same port.

Many shark species are very vulnerable to overexploitation. In recent years, some shark stocks have been overfished and jeopardised due to a dramatic increase in demand for shark products, particularly fins. To date, the largest numbers of special permits have been issued by Spain and Portugal.

About shark finning

Sharks fins are sold between 15 and 70 euros per kilogramme. Fins are graded as extra large (40 cm and above), large (30-40 cm), medium (20-30 cm), small (10-20 cm), very small (4-10 cm) and mixed or assorted.

Indonesia is the biggest fisher of sharks (107 tons per year) followed by India (81 tons) and Spain (56 tons). The biggest shark fin importers are China (36%) and Hong Kong (58%).

According to data from the United Nations, the EU is the world’s largest trading partner for shark products and is responsible for 56% of total global shark imports from other states and for more than 30% of worldwide exports

Shark fins have been used as food in China for centuries. There are reports of their use as early as the Ming Dynasty from 1368-1644.

The European Commission has proposed to improve current European rules for cracking down on shark finning. Portuguese Christian Democrat Maria do Céu Patrão Neves, who is responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament, supports the plan. She wants fishers to be required to bring in sharks to ports with the fins attached. This would mean that fishers would be forced to kill sharks on their vessels instead of leaving them in the sea to die and remove the fins later.

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