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  • Writer's pictureHarriet

Shark Fin Seizures at Frankfurt and Brussels Airport

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Why do we need airlines to ban the transport of shark fins? An excellent question!

Airlines profit from transporting a product obtained through removing sharks fins, often cut off whilst the shark is still alive. The shark then dies through blood loss or suffocation. It is described as one of the worst acts of animal cruelty in todays world. If airlines agree to transport these fins, they are part of an industry that mutilates millions of sharks annually, threatening marine ecosystems and livelihoods.

They inadvertently, or not, facilitate, perpetuate and profit from the shark fin trade which is brutal and highly destructive.

Fly Without Fins is a campaign run by Shark Guardian that asks airlines to implement a ban on transporting shark fins. Below are a few examples of legal fin consignments and illegal fin seizures at airports, evidencing airlines contributions to the trade and how a ban on flying fins could potentially mitigate the murder of critically endangered and CITES-listed sharks.

Frankfurt Airport, 2018

In spring 2018, a cargo plane from Mexico landed at Frankfurt airport. On this plane was a consignment containing 3 tonnes of shark fins with an estimated market value of €3,000,000 on its way to Hong Kong. Customs officers discovered the consignment and on inspecting its paper work made the decision to review its content to verify compliance with CITES. For species listed on CITES, transport and trade is prohibited, but enforcing this is not an easy task, particularly with a consignment such as this with fins of different sizes and unknown origin.

Laboratory based DNA testing of individual shark fins is the only accurate way of identifying species however, this testing takes significant resources, such as funding, time and equipment. With the help of the Munich State Zoological Archives, 400kg of fins from sharks protected by CITES Appendix II were found without the necessary paperwork ensuring their trade is "controlled in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival”. The identified fins included the critically endangered oceanic whitetips (Carcharhinus longimanus) and silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) which are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

The CITES-protected fins were confiscated but all other fins, mainly blue shark (Prionace glauca), were released for the onward flight to Hong Kong. The trader in Asia certainly noticed the ~€400,000 loss of confiscated goods however there was no legal prosecution initiated and the remaining expected profit of over €2,600,000 was still obtained.

Despite these fins being legal, airlines and airports transporting this cargo perpetuate a gruesome trade, where legal and illegal fins are tightly intertwined. CITES-listed sharks remaining among the top species in the contemporary fin trade. Studies show that over a third of fins on the market are from endangered species, and on genetic testing of 35 shark products in 2019 65% of them contained DNA from endangered species. Evidenced by this fin seizure (and many others) it is common for endangered and protected species of shark fins to be hidden in consignments of legal fins or other products.

Violating CITES must not be a trivial offence, it must have serious and notable consequences.

By implementing a transport ban on shark fins, airlines can counteract this injustice and thus set an important precedent for marine protection, conservation and the protection of sharks from extinction.

Brussels Airport, 2019

A similar story can be told a year on in 2019 when customs officers seized 24 bags containing 1.2 tonnes of fins from sharks and rays. These were being transported from Liberia to Hong Kong via Brussels. The consignment was vaguely labelled as dried fish and fish entrails, as such it roused the suspicions of customs officers. Of the 24 bags, 5 contained the declared fish entrails however the other 21 contained the fins from sharks and rays, including CITES-listed hammerheads and guitarfish, for which they had no permits.

The operation had to call upon experts on CITES, animal exports, the finance ministry, and the federal food safety agency. The Belgium public health ministry, estimated the shipment would have involved the killing of 1,600 to 2,000 animals, many of which were juveniles. Encouragingly, they went on to state that...

"This seizure demonstrates the need to continue to fight illegal and non-sustainable trade.”

What can you do?

Politely ask (or demand, up to you) that airlines no longer accept shark fins on their flights. You can do the research yourself and find airlines email addresses or social media pages OR you can simply visit Fly Without Fins. At the click of a button you can tweet any of the +300 airlines we have listed. Use the search function to filter by country or specific airline, then simply click ’tweet’. With this pre-written tweet you can ask airlines to implement a ban on the transportation of fins. The #IATA is used to get the attention of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). They are the trade association for the world’s airlines, representing 290 airlines and 82% of total air traffic. They also help formulate industry policy on critical aviation issues so are the perfect association to implement blanket bans on all their airlines which would alter the policy for 290 airlines at once!

If you’re not a Twitter fan, that’s fine too! Feel free to copy and paste the below message into any of the platforms you use. For extra brownie points, include the hashtags your specific airline use too!

Sharks are vital for oceans but killed for shark fin soup. Many airlines fly fins, inadvertently facilitating the barbaric and highly destructive trade. Airlines, like sharks, can't @[INSERT AIRLINE HANDLE HERE] Please STOP carrying shark fins? #IATA

It’s not all nasty, there is some nice too! Feel free to send a ‘thank you’ tweet to all the airlines that have already implemented this policy.

If any EU citizens are feeling extra generously, please please please head to Stop Finning EU and add your vote to ban the trade of shark fins in the EU.

Lastly, thank you for doing all you can to protect sharks around the world.

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