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Europe Considers Shark Finning Ban

BRUSSELS, Belgium, August 6, 2002 (ENS) - The European Commission proposed today to prohibit shark finning, which involves the removal of fins and the discarding of the remainder of the shark at sea.

The practice is motivated by the strong international market that exists for shark fins, but it results in the death of large numbers of sharks. Shark fin is the principle ingredient in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy that can sell for US$100 a bowl.

The commission proposes to prohibit shark finning within all European Union waters and for all EU vessels wherever they fish beyond EU waters. The commission believes this approach will encourage the adoption of the measure in regional fisheries organizations.

Shark fisherman removes fins from his catch. (Photo by Elizabeth Hayes courtesy WWF) Australia and the United States have imposed shark finning bans in the past two years.

Finning runs counter to the recommendations of several international fisheries management agreements including the United Nations International Plan of Action for the onservation and Management of Sharks.

"We are committed to better integrate environmental protection into the Common Fisheries Policy. We must act to end a practice that poses a serious threat to several shark stocks," said Franz Fischler, the commissioner responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries.

Fischler says that given the problems involved in the identification of species on the basis of removed fins, the commission proposes to apply this prohibition to all elasmobranchs which include sharks, skates, and rays.

"The practice of cutting ray wings would not be covered by this prohibition, however, as it aims at using the most important part of the fish flesh and ray wings are easily recognizable," the commission said.

The commission does recognize the possibility for a legitimate targeted shark fishery involving full use of the catch.

Shark fins on sale in Hong Kong (Photo by Rob Parry-Jones courtesy TRAFFIC) Shark finning would be allowed if the removal of fins were part of a process to make more efficient use of all the shark parts on board the fishing vessel. In this case, EU Member States would be required to issue and manage a special fishing permit for this purpose. To ensure that all parts of the shark are kept on board, those issued with special permits would be required to enter all relevant data in a logbook.

According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization statistics, over 100 million sharks are caught each year, but shark fisheries are generally poorly documented and poorly regulated.

Until more detailed scientific data on these shark species become available to allow for the establishment of appropriate rules to protect them, the commission said, this measure would contribute to their conservation.

The proposal to ban shark finning now goes to the Fisheries Council for decision.


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