Over 97 million sharks are killed each year. That’s +500 in the time it takes to make a cup of tea.
Is Shark Finning Banned?
Shark finning is the act of slicing the fins off a shark, often while it is still alive and discarding its body at sea. Sharks then sink to the ocean floor and suffocate or bleed to death. Shark’s body are thrown overboard as they have far less value, in monetary terms, than the fins. As such carcasses use up precious storage space, more fins equals more money. The term “shark” refers to all elasmobranch species, including the majestic rays, with the most lucrative of fins coming from Rhinorays. So, why are they being butchered in millions each year? Soup. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asia selling for up to $200 a bowl.
Surely this barbaric act of cruelty is banned in many countries, right? You may hope and think so, however, sharks are not protected, and they are not safe. Although the act of shark finning (the removal of the fins onboard) is banned in many countries, the act of killing sharks for their fins isn’t. Instead, either a fin:carcass ratio or a “fins naturally attached” policy is put in place.
A fin:carcass ratio means that there can only be a limited number of removed fins on board correlating to the number of shark bodies. The ‘fins naturally attached’ policy means that fins cannot be cut off at sea and all sharks need to be landed with their fins attached. Whilst both regulations are ecologically helpful, as fewer sharks can be killed each fishing trip, there are many loopholes and permits are regularly granted which flout these rules. The regulation of these permits, ratios and policies is extremely complicated and have been widely described as an ineffective tool for preventing finning. Additionally, these measures do nothing to regulate import, export, and trade of fins within countries, thus still facilitates demand.
Europe has a lot to answer for with regards to shark finning. Spain alone is recognised as one of the leading contributors of unprocessed shark fins, much of which supplies the demand for shark fin soup across Asia. Approximately 3, 500 tons of shark fins are exported each year from Europe. In the last decade, Europe has caught and killed more sharks than Indonesia, Japan or China making it the top fisher of sharks globally. Moreover, the UK is ranked in the top 25 nations responsible for exporting shark fins to Asia. Stop Finning EU is a Citizens Initiative involving member states of the EU to push for a ban on the import, export, and trade of shark fins, so we are not alone in our fight to save sharks from finning and overfishing.
The Loophole in UK Law…
According to UK Border Force, shark does not have to be declared as it is classed generically as ‘fish and fish products’. This means that upon entering the country, anybody can bring in 20kg of shark fin for ‘personal consumption’, creating a loophole for the trade of a very valuable product. We estimate that 20kg of shark fin is approximately seven dead sharks. Seven, per person, legally allowed to be brought in to the UK without declaration! This loophole results in the continuation of shark fin soup on menus in Asian restaurants across the UK. It perpetuates and facilitates the shark finning industry and if remains unchanged, the demand for shark fin soup will continue.
It is clear that regulating the shark finning industry is incredibly difficult, and as ‘fish’ needn’t be declared, monitoring the number of shark fins imported is almost impossible.
And so came the birth of Finspire Change UK.
Finspire Change UK
In early April, Shark Guardian was contacted by a passionate member of the public looking to initiate a change. This gentleman set up a petition using the official Parliamentary Petitions website, to push for a ban on the importation of shark fins into the UK. On the 1st May 2020, the Finspire Change UK campaign was launched which aimed to elevate this petition and provide sharks with the protection they deserve in the UK.
A previous petition was started whilst the UK was part of the EU which achieved a response from the government - DEFRA stated...
The UK Government is strongly opposed to shark finning, and we support stronger international controls. Whilst in the EU, it is not possible to unilaterally ban the import of shark fins into the UK.
They went on to explain that...
Leaving the EU will present us with the opportunity to take further action on this issue and consider whether the UK can go further in controlling the quantity of dried shark fins permitted for personal consumption, consistent with our WTO obligations.
Great, the government is somewhat in agreement! By signing and sharing the current petition, you and thousands of other UK citizens are applying pressure to the government, showing that the 20kg allowance loophole and the UK's involvement with the shark finning industry is unacceptable. The loophole shows utter disregard for the protection of sharks and laughs in the face of their previous statement, declaring they’re “strongly opposed to shark finning”. The UK has the chance to act as a role model, encouraging other countries to follow suit, just as we were encouraged by Canada and several US states recently banning fin trade.
Our current petition recently surpassed 10,000 signatures which warranted a response from the government – win! The response is remarkably positive.
"We recognise that the demand for shark fins can be a significant driving force behind the capture of sharks and can fuel unsustainable practices. This is why the UK continues to press for stronger international controls... Having left the EU, the UK can champion conservation measures much more forcefully. This will help improve shark conservation globally through RFMOs and through CITES. In addition, EU law allows individuals travelling to Europe to carry 20kg of dried shark fins for personal consumption. Our departure from the EU allows us to consider options to tighten the personal import allowance and improve the traceability of the shark in fin trade in the UK." DEFRA
Sounds great, right? *plot twist* The Petitions Committee requested a revised response from the Government as they felt that the response did not directly address the request of the petition! As of yet, we have not received the revised statement.
As recently as late July, DEFRA responded to an email from Shark Guardian restating the above but also adding...
The UK government does not oppose the capture and use of sharks providing catches are shown to be genuinely sustainable. However, we are looking into a range of options to address the importation of shark fins that would support efforts to end illegal shark finning practices globally... Our departure from the EU allows us to consider options to tighten the [20kg] personal import allowance and improve the traceability of the shark in fin trade in the UK.
Even the government is saying now we've left the EU we can do better! We just need you and then there is no stopping the Finspire Change UK movement and the fate of sharks in the UK.
We truly need 100,000 signatures to ensure discussion in Parliament. Here we feel we have a very strong case and can make real legislative change for shark protection. Signing the petition is easy and takes only a few minutes, sharing is easier and takes only a few seconds. The campaign is crucial to the success of the petition and we have created some great content that you can download and share far and wide, and for free!
If you want to help support the campaign further...
Our 'office supply kit' is a printable poster, QR code and fact sheet for you to stick around your office encouraging your colleagues to sign! Stick it next to the kettle, in the bathroom stalls or on your door (with the rule that nobody is allowed to enter unless they've signed). The latter is our favourite.
If you are not a UK citizen, we need you too! We might even need you more. There are more of you than there are of us so by you sharing this campaign we reach audiences that would have never seen it otherwise. Please share with your UK friends, tag them in our posts and ask them to sign. You're still making a huge difference!