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European Union: Prohibition on Shark Finning

(Nov. 28, 2011) On November 21, 2011, the European Union (EU) introduced a proposal to ban shark finning, a widespread practice across the globe that involves the cutting off by fishermen of the fins of sharks while the sharks are still alive but have been hauled onto fishing boats. After the finning, the sharks are thrown back into the sea. (Press Release, European Commission, Fisheries: Commission Proposes Full Ban on Shark Finning at Sea (Nov. 21, 2011).)

The proposal prohibits the practice aboard all vessels fishing in EU waters and on all EU vessels fishing in oceans worldwide. It stipulates that fishermen will be allowed to slice partly through the fin and fold it against the carcass of a dead shark; consequently, they must land the sharks with their fins still attached. (Id.) Existing rules, under Regulation No. 1185/2003, prohibit shark finning, but allow fishermen to remove shark fins aboard vessels and to land the fins and the rest of sharks' carcasses in different ports. The Regulation also provides that the weight of the fins must not exceed five percent of the weight of the live shark caught. Under this scheme, it has been difficult for inspectors to ensure, on the basis of records kept by the fishermen, that the latter had complied with the five percent requirement. (Id).

The above proposal is in line with the EU's international commitments, including the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the International Plan of Action on Sharks, adopted by FAO in 1999. (Id.)

The Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, stated:

By closing the loophole in our legislation, we want to eradicate the horrendous practice of shark finning and protect sharks much better. Control will become easier and shark fining much more difficult to hide. I very much look forward to the Council and the European Parliament accepting our proposal, so that it becomes law as soon as possible. (Id.)

The demand for shark fins has grown rapidly in recent years, particularly because they are a much sought-after soup ingredient in China. The United Nations estimates that approximately 10 million sharks are finned annually; conservationists estimate that the number is much higher. (Philip Ebels, EU Bans Practice of Chopping off Shark Fins, EU OBSERVER (Nov. 21, 2011).)