Sharks & Appetites: Compelling reasons for a ban

By Ahmad Ali
Co-Regional vice-chair, IUCN Shark Specialist Group Southeast Asia Region

I refer to the comments by Cheah Hooi Giam of Penang (“Campaign lacks strong bite” — NST, Aug 20) on the issue of shark’s fin soup and shark finning.

The IUCN Shark Specialist Group considers that shark finning (the removal and retention of shark fins and the discard at sea of the rest of the carcass) threatens many shark stocks, the stability of marine ecosystems, sustainable traditional fisheries, food security and socio-economically important recreational fisheries.

It is, therefore, contrary to the principles of the United Nations-FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (Article 7.2.2 (g) and to the guiding principles, objective and aims of the UN-FAO International Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks).

Trade and landings data indicate that finning activity is widespread, largely unmanaged and unmonitored. Because of the biological characteristics of sharks, it also leads to unsustainable levels of mortality.

Finning and discarding of shark carcasses is wasteful of protein and other potential products derived from sharks (it utilises only two to five per cent of the shark). This wastage prevents socio-economic benefits from accruing when other shark products are processed on shore and is a threat to food security (the latter particularly when undertaken by distant fleets in the waters of developing countries).

Finning causes the death of millions of sharks. This potentially threatens the survival of rare and vulnerable species and, by removing large numbers of top predators from the oceanic ecosystem, may have dramatic and undesirable ecological impacts that could potentially threaten yields of other commercial species.

Finning impedes the collection of the species-specific scientific data that are essential for monitoring catches and landings and implementing sustainable shark fisheries management (as required under international agreements and statutes).

We consider, therefore, that a ban on shark finning is justified throughout the world’s oceans and high seas.

We also urge states that take sharks in target or bycatch fisheries to implement fully the UN-FAO IPOA-Sharks by developing national and regional plans of action that incorporate the guiding principles of a precautionary approach and recognise the nutritional and socio-economic importance of shark catches in some regions, and minimise waste and discards from shark catches and promote their use through, inter alia, implementing finning bans.

Such bans should require sharks to be landed with fins attached. Or, if this is not possible, all parts should be landed together at a ratio that should not exceed five per cent of fin to dressed carcass weight.

Source: 24/8/2007 NST Online – Letters