is the wasteful practice of cutting off a shark’s fins and discarding its
carcass at sea. Finning is driven by the discrepancy between generally low
value shark meat and high value shark fins, a traditional, luxury seafood product
in Chinese cuisine which retail for an average of US $100/kg. Strong demand for
fins contributes to the fishing pressure on shark populations around the world.
It is estimated that the fins of 26 to 73 million sharks enter the global trade
each year. Most of the world’s Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs),
which govern international waters, have agreed finning bans (see section on
RFMOs and Sharks). Finning has also been prohibited throughout the European
Union and by more than 20 other fishing nations. The effectiveness of
these bans is contingent on how they are implemented; many of the associated
regulations are lenient, have loopholes, and/or are poorly enforced. Detailed
information on national and international finning bans is included in the report
from the IUCN SSG Pelagic Shark Red List Workshop, The Conservation Status of Pelagic Sharks and Rays.
The IUCN has
long held the position that the most reliable and effective way to prevent
shark finning is to require that sharks to be landed with their fins naturally attached. This strategy also allows for
improved species-specific landing data, which are needed for population
assessments and effective fisheries management. This policy is in effect in
most of Central America and for Atlantic U.S. waters, among other places, but
most finning bans are still implemented by limiting the ratio of fin-to-carcass
weight. In such cases, the IUCN has recommended ratios of no higher than a
5% fin weight to dressed carcass weight.
At its 4th Session
in October 2008, the IUCN World Conservation Congress adopted a revised global
policy on shark finning which calls on countries to end the removal of shark
fins at sea (while allowing partial detachment for storage purposes) and
improve related implementation measures and control systems. Link to full policy here.
important to note that finning bans alone, even when well-enforced, will not
prevent overfishing of sharks. Catch limits based on scientific advice and the
precautionary approach are essential to ensure shark mortality and fisheries
Each UN General Assembly Resolution on Sustainable
Fisheries since 2003 has urged States to improve RFMO and national shark
fisheries management, including through implementing the FAO’s IPOA–Sharks and
banning shark finning. Since 2007, these Resolutions have called upon nations to
consider taking measures to require “that
all sharks be landed with each fin naturally attached”. The 2010 meeting of the Fish Stocks Agreement Review
Conference underscored support for keeping fins naturally attached and recommended
strengthening enforcement of prohibitions on shark finning.