Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins. The rest of the body is generally discarded in the ocean; however, some countries have banned this practice and require the whole body to be brought back to port before removing the fins. Sharks without their fins are often still alive; unable to move normally, they die of suffocation or are eaten by other predators. Shark finning at sea enables fishing vessels to increase profitability and increase the number of sharks harvested, as they only have to store and transport the fins, by far the most profitable part of the shark.
Shark finning has increased over the past decade largely due to the increasing demand for shark fins for shark fin soup and traditional cures, particularly in China and its territories, and as a result of improved fishing technology and market economics. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Shark Specialist Group say that shark finning is widespread, and that "the rapidly expanding and largely unregulated shark fin trade represents one of the most serious threats to shark populations worldwide". Estimates of the global value of the shark fin trade range from a minimum of US$540 Million to US$1.2 billion. Shark fins are among the most expensive seafood products worldwide, commonly retailing at US$400 per kg. In the United States, where finning is prohibited, a bowl of shark-fin soup can sell for $70 to $150. For trophy species like the whale shark and basking shark, a single fin can fetch $10,000 to $20,000.
Studies estimate that 26 to 73 million sharks are harvested annually for their fins. The annual median for the period from 1996 to 2000 was said to be 38 million, which is nearly four times the number recorded by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, but considerably lower than the estimates of many conservationists. It has been reported that the global shark catch in 2012 was 100 million.
Much of the sharks' fin trade uses fins cut from living sharks, called finning. Because shark meat is worth much less, the finless and often still-living sharks are thrown back into the sea to make room for more of the valuable fins. In the ocean, the sharks either die from suffocation or are eaten because they are unable to move normally. The removal of ﬁns during processing on land is not considered shark ﬁnning. Shark species that are commonly finned are sandbar, bull, hammerhead, blacktip, porbeagle, mako, thresher, blue and occasionally white sharks.
According to Giam Choo Hoo, the longest serving member of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Animals Committee, "The perception that it is common practice to kill sharks for only their fins - and to cut them off whilst the sharks are still alive - is wrong.... The vast majority of fins in the market are taken from sharks after their death." However, some researchers dispute this claim. Based on a statistical analysis of shark fin trade data, one study estimates that between 26 and 73 million sharks are harvested each year worldwide. This figure, when converted to shark biomass, is three to four times higher than the catch recorded in Food and Agriculture Organization capture production statistics, the only global database of shark catches. These discrepancies "may be attributable to factors ... such as unrecorded shark landings, shark biomass recorded in [non-speciﬁc] categories, and/or a high frequency of shark ﬁnning and carcass disposal at sea."
Opposition and impacts 
The crew of the Sea Shepherd conservation vessel RV Ocean Warrior witnessed and photographed industrial-scale finning within Costa Rica's Cocos Island National Park protected marine area. The practice is featured in the documentary Sharks: Stewards of the Reef, which contains footage from Western Australia and Central America and also examines shark finning's cultural, financial and ecological impacts. Underwater photographer Richard Merritt also has witnessed finning of living sharks in Indonesia where he saw immobile finless sharks lying on the sea bed still alive below the fishing boat. Finning has been witnessed and filmed within a protected marine area in the Raja Ampat islands of Indonesia.
Animal welfare groups vigorously oppose finning on moral grounds and also because it is one cause for the rapid decline of global shark populations. On the IUCN Red List there are 39 species of elasmobranches (sharks and rays) listed as threatened species (Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable).[not in citation given] CITES lists three sharks in Appendix II: the basking shark, the great white shark, and the whale shark. Appendix II lists those species that are not in danger of extinction, but which require controls on international trade to maintain their populations.
Sharks adhere to a K-selected life history theory, which means that they tend to grow slowly, reach maturity at a larger size and a later age, and have low reproductive rates. These traits make them especially vulnerable to overfishing methods, such as shark finning. Recent studies suggest changes in abundance of apex predators may have cascading impacts on a variety of ecological processes. Sharks are apex predators and have extensive implications for marine systems an processes, particularly coral reefs. A report by WildAid on global threats to sharks further explains the importance of these animals.
Because of the lucrative profits and alleged size of the market, there are allegations of links to organized crime. Opponents also raise questions on the medical harm from the consumption of high levels of toxic mercury reportedly found in shark fins.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the preferred shark and shark-like ray species for fins are tiger, mako, sawfish, sandbar, bull, hammerhead, blacktip, porbeagle, blue and thresher sharks." Fins from the critically endangered sawfish (Pristidae) "are highly favored in Asian markets and are some of the most valuable shark fins". Sawfishes are now protected under the highest protection level of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Appendix I,
A third of all fins imported to Hong Kong come from Europe. Spain is by far the largest supplier, providing between 2,000 and 5,000 metric tons a year. Norway supplies 39 metric tonnes, but Britain, France, Portugal and Italy are also major suppliers. Hong Kong handles at least 50% and possibly up to 80% of the world trade in shark fin, with the major suppliers being Europe, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen, India, Japan, and Mexico.
Numbers of some shark species have dropped as much as 80% over the last 50 years. Some organizations claim that shark fishing or bycatch (the unintentional capture of species by other fisheries) is the reason for the decline in some species' populations and that the market for fins has very little impact – bycatch accounts for an estimated 50% of all sharks taken – others that the market for shark fin soup is the main reason for the decline. Tommy Cheung, the legislator representing Hong Kong's catering sector, said: "I don't believe sharks are an endangered species. Some species of shark may be, but not all shark's fin comes from certain species. There are a lot of species that are plentiful." There is no reliable count for the numbers taken in the shark fin trade and thus it is hard to prove the claims on either side of the argument.
According to Giam's article, "Sharks are caught in virtually all parts of the world.... Despite the strongly declared objectives of the Fisheries Commission in Brussels, there are very few restrictions on fishing for sharks in European waters. The meat of dogfishes, smoothhounds, cat sharks, skates and rays is in high demand by European consumers.... The situation in Canada and the United States is similar: the blue shark is sought after as a sport fish while the porbeagle, mako and spiny dogfish are part of the commercial fishery.... The truth is this: Sharks will continue to be caught and killed on a wide scale by the more organized and sophisticated fishing nations. Targeting shark's fin soup will not stop this accidental catch. The fins from these catches will be thrown away or turned into animal feed and fertilizers if shark's fin soup is shunned."
In 2007, Canadian filmmaker and biologist Rob Stewart created a film, Sharkwater, which exposes the shark fin industry in detail. In March 2011, the VOA Special English service of the Voice of America broadcast a 15-minute science program on shark finning.
National/supranational restrictions 
Many countries now prohibit finning; however, international waters are unregulated. International fishing authorities are considering banning shark fishing (and finning) in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Finning is banned in the Eastern Pacific, but shark fishing and finning continues unabated in most of the Pacific and Indian Ocean. In countries such as Thailand and Singapore, public awareness advertisements on finning have reportedly reduced consumption by 25%.
There are four main categories of restrictions, as follows:
- shark sanctuary (an area where shark fishing is entirely prohibited;
- area where sharks must be landed with fins attached;
- area where fin to body mass ratio-based regulations have been implemented;
- area where shark product trade regulations exist. (Source: L. Biery and D. Pauly "A global review of species-specific shark-fin-to-body-mass ratios and relevant legislation" Journal of Fish Biology 2012)
CITES - Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna 
Eight species of shark are listed on Appendix II of CITES:
- Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus)
- Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
- Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)
- Scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini)
- Great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran)
- Smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena)
- Porbeagle (Lamna nasus)
- Oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus)
Appendix II includes species that could become threatened with extinction if trade is not regulated.
In November, 2011 the European Commission approved a rule that would require all European Union-registered fishing boats to land only sharks that retained all their fins. Europe already had a finning ban in place, but because it allowed fins to be removed on the boat and different body parts to be landed at different ports, the ban proved difficult to enforce. To take effect, the new requirement must be approved by the European Council and the European Parliament. The latter happened in November, 2012.
Imported shark fin products 
In Australia, the export and import of wildlife and wildlife products is regulated under Part 13A of the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), which is administered by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities ((DSEWPaC). Regulation applies equally to individuals, commercial organisations and not-for-profit organisations. Three species of shark are listed on Appendix II of CITES: Cetorhinus maximus — basking shark, Carcharodon carcharias — great white shark, Rhincodon typus — whale shark. Appendix II includes species that could become threatened with extinction if trade is not regulated. Appendix II shark specimens cannot be legally imported into Australia for personal or commercial purposes unless:
- the specimen is accompanied by a valid Australian CITES import permit (Australian import permits can be granted only if an overseas CITES export permit has been granted); or
- the specimen is accompanied by a valid certificate issued by the overseas CITES management authority confirming that the specimen was obtained before the species was listed on CITES (pre-CITES certificate); or
- the specimen is accompanied by an overseas CITES export permit or equivalent, is part of personal accompanied baggage and is intended for personal use and not for trade or sale.
To avoid seizure all products must be clearly labelled or have documentation certifying the species of origin. No permits are required for the import of specimens obtained from shark species other than those listed above; however, to avoid seizure all products must be clearly labelled or have documentation certifying the species of origin.
Shark fin products from Australia 
Federal fisheries law 
Finning is not allowed in any tuna or billfish longline fishery, or in any Commonwealth fishery taking sharks. Fins must be landed attached, and additional regulations apply in some states or territories. Commonwealth, i.e. federal waters ranges from 3–200 miles (4·8 to 321·9 km) offshore.
New South Wales law 
Shark taken or any relevant portion of a shark taken may not be on board any vessel at any time (including after landing) without fins naturally attached. (Fisheries Management Act 1994, s.8 Notification – Fishing Closure (Official Notices, 2 September 2011 NSW Government Gazette No. 86 Department of Primary Industries)
Shark finning has been illegal in Canada since 1994, but importing fins from other regions without such regulations is allowed.
In late 2011, the city of Brantford, Ontario became the first city in Canada to pass new bylaws to ban the possession, sale or consumption of shark fin products. In that medium-sized city in which no restaurants exist which serve shark fin, there was no opposition to the ban, which was largely symbolic. Nevertheless, a handful of cities soon followed, notably Toronto, Calgary, Mississauga and a couple of others in Southern Ontario:
- Brantford, Ontario 11 to 0 vote
- Oakville, Ontario 7 to 0 vote
- Mississauga, Ontario 11 to 0 vote
- Toronto, Ontario 38 to 4 vote (overturned)
- Newmarket, Ontario 8 to 1 vote
- Calgary 13 to 2 vote
Markham and Richmond Hill opted not to bring forth the motion, suggesting that this issue is a federal matter. Chinese restaurants and businesses selling shark's fin opposed the ban, and in late 2011, suggested that they will challenge the by-laws before the courts once fines are imposed. When Toronto imposed steep fines, they did just that.
In late 2012, the Ontario Superior Court overturned Toronto's shark fin ban, ruling that the law as written was outside the powers of the city to impose without a "legitimate local purpose", and was therefore of "no force and effect." The judge accepted that the practice of shark finning was inhumane, but he did not agree with Toronto's justification of local purpose – namely, that the consumption of shark fins may have an "adverse impact" on the health and safety of its residents and on the environmental well-being of the city. Toronto has served legal notice that it plans to appeal the court ruling.
NBA All-Star Yao Ming pledged to stop eating shark fin soup at a news conference on August 2, 2006. Yao's comments were largely unreported in the Chinese media and drew a reproach from Chinese seafood industry associations. U.S. basketball player Tracy McGrady, a team mate of Yao's, reportedly said that he was impressed by the soup when he tried it for the first time, but was criticized by the Hong Kong branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature for his remark. Late Australian naturalist Steve Irwin was known to walk out of Chinese restaurants if he saw shark fin soup on the menu. The Chinese-American chef Ken Hom sees the West doing little to protect stocks of cod and caviar-producing sturgeon despite the outcry over shark-finning, but he also stresses the wastefulness of harvesting only the fins.
Hong Kong 
Hong Kong Disneyland dropped shark fin soup from its wedding banquet menu after international pressure from environmental groups, who threatened to boycott its parks worldwide despite the high demand for the delicacy.[dead link] The University of Hong Kong has banned shark fin soup on campus. The Peninsula Hotel, a legendary Hong Kong landmark, banned shark fin effective January 1, 2012
On September 15, 2007, Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Ministry Azmi Khalid banned shark's fin soup from official functions committing to the Malaysian Nature Society (for conservation of shark species).
New Zealand 
The great white sharks have been given full protection in the territorial waters of New Zealand but shark finning is legal on other shark species if the shark is dead. The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand are campaigning to raise awareness of shark finning and a number of foodies have fronted the campaign.
In 2009, the Republic of Palau created the world's first shark sanctuary. It is illegal to catch sharks within Palau's EEZ, which covers an area of 230,000 square miles (600,000 km2). This is an area about the size of France. President Johnson Toribiong also called for a ban on global shark finning, stating: "These creatures are being slaughtered and are perhaps at the brink of extinction unless we take positive action to protect them."
Leading Singapore-based supermarket chain Cold Storage (supermarket), has joined the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore Sustainable seafood Group and agreed to stop selling all shark fin and shark products in its 42 outlets across the country. The supermarket is a subsidiary of Dairy Farm, a leading pan-Asian food retailer that operates more than 5,300 outlets and employs some 80,000 people in the Asia-Pacific region. It is the first supermarket in Singapore to implement a “no shark fins policy”.
United States 
Bill Clinton signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 (SFPA), banning finning in the United States and with U.S.-registered vessels, but not foreign-registered vessels. Shark fins cannot be imported into the United States without the associated carcass. In 1991, the percentage of sharks killed by U.S. longline fisheries in the Pacific Ocean for finning was approximately 3%. By 1998, that percentage had grown to 60%. Between 1991 and 1998, the number of sharks retained by the Hawaii-based swordfish and tuna longline fishery had increased from 2,289 to 60,857 annually, and by 1998, an estimated 98% of these sharks were killed for their fins..
In 2002, an apparent early success in stopping the shark fin trade, the interception of 32.3 tons (29.3 tonnes) of baled fins, the largest amount ever, on the King Diamond II, a U.S.-flagged Hong Kong-based vessel bound for Guatemala, was reversed in court. Six years later, in United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the SFPA did not cover the seized fins in this case. Judge Stephen Reinhardt found that the King Diamond did not meet the statute's definition of a fishing vessel since it had merely bought the fins at sea and had not aided or assisted the vessels that had caught the sharks.
As a result, in January 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act into law to close the loopholes. Specifically, the new law prohibits any boat to carry shark fins without the corresponding number and weight of carcasses, and all sharks must be brought to port with their fins attached.
In 2010, Hawaii became the first state to ban the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins. The law became effective on July 1, 2011. Similar laws have been enacted in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, the territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. California governor Jerry Brown cited the cruelty of finning and potential threats to the environment and commercial fishing in signing the bill. Opponents charged the ban was discriminatory against Chinese, the main consumers of shark fin soup, when federal laws already banned the practice of finning. Whole sharks would still be legally fished, but the fins could no longer be sold.
In 2012, legislators in the New York State Assembly, including Grace Meng (the assembly's only Asian American), introduced a similar bill. While New York was not the only Eastern state considering a ban, passage there would be significant since its Chinese American communities in Chinatown and Meng's neighborhood of Flushing make New York the major importer of shark fins in the East. Meng admitted that while she loved shark fin soup, "it's important to be responsible citizens." Younger Chinese Americans in New York did not consider it an important part of their culture. "It's only the elderly who want it: when their grandkids get married, they want the most expensive stuff, like an emperor," said one waiter at a Chinese restaurant. Many businesses that sold fins had stopped placing new orders, expecting a ban would be passed.
See also 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Shark finning|
- Declawing of crabs
- Shark fin trading in Costa Rica
- Sharkwater (2007 documentary film)
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