At long last, shark finning is on its way to becoming truly illegal in the European Union. Although the EU passed a law banning the cruel practice of de-finning sharks at sea in 2003, the issuing of Special Fishing Permits (SFPs) was a loophole that allowed it to continue in many areas.
In late November, members of the European Parliament voted to pass a European Commission proposal that would close these dangerous loopholes by discontinuing the issuance of the special permits. The resolution was adopted with 566 votes in favor, 47 against and 16 abstentions.
While this seems like a blessing for shark populations, it’s a mixed one. Under the Commission’s proposal, it’s the removal of fins at sea, not the act of killing a shark, that’s actually forbidden. First brought forth in 2011, the proposal states that “all vessels fishing in EU waters and all EU vessels fishing anywhere in the world will have to land sharks with the fins still attached. To facilitate storage and handling onboard vessels, fishermen will be permitted to slice partly through each fin and fold it against the carcass of the shark.”
So basically it’s still O.K. to kill these vital members of the marine ecosystem, but the negative impact will slow slightly because hunters won’t be able to fit as many in their boats at once.
BBC News reports that the EU’s global catch of sharks ranks second only to Indonesia. Sharks are valued for their meat, fins, skin, and cartilage, especially in Asian markets. This over-exploitation affects populations that are generally fragile and is leading some species to the brink of extinction. Shark finning is one of the cruelest fishing practices known to man because the fins are often removed while the animal is still alive. This done simply to conserve space in the boat–fins weigh less and take up less space in the hold. The shark is then thrown back into the sea where it inevitably drowns.
According to European Parliament data, the largest number of SFPs issued to date were to Spanish and Portuguese vessels (1,266 and 145 respectively, between 2004 and 2010). Until 2009, the UK, Germany and Lithuania had also issued SFPs.
The decision to back the European Commission’s plan now passes to the hands of EU ministers.
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