From a Petition to Parliament
Updated: Aug 18
In the summer of 2020, here in the UK, we had very, very exciting news! A petition which was started by concerned citizen Robin Gallagher, was picked up by the shark conservation charity Shark Guardian and subsequently gained more than 100,000 signatures online! This means that the petition has passed the threshold number and must be discussed in parliament! So, for the first time ever, the general public have forced the government to consider banning the import of shark fins into the UK!
Shark finning is the practice of removing fins from the shark at sea. This is done because shark fins are more valuable than shark meat on the global market. Shark fins are used to make shark fin soup, which is very popular in many Asian countries and with Asian communities in many other countries around the world. Because space is limited onboard, finning allows fishers to fill their vessels with shark fins, rather than taking up space with the carcasses (Fowler & Séret, 2010).
The problem is that finning is both wasteful and cruel. Many fishers throw the body of the shark back into the ocean, which means that the vast majority of the meat is wasted. Whatsmore, this is often done before the shark is dead! The fins are cut from the animal whilst it is still alive and the body of the shark is then discarded, at which point they are left to die from blood loss or drowning. In my opinion, this is absolutely foul and disgusting, and is a significant animal cruelty issue.
As populations of many shark species are significantly declining, finning is also a serious conservation issue. Extracting sharks at the rate they are currently fished is completely unsustainable and there are serious concerns over the potential extinction of many species of sharks (Passantino, 2014).
In response, many nations have implemented legislation which requires fishers to land their shark catches with the fins either attached or in the correct numbers, to ensure that the carcasses are not wasted. Finning is banned in the EU and sharks may only be finned once they have reached land. However, it is entirely legal for a citizen to import 20kg of dried shark fins into the EU if they are for personal consumption. Whatsmore, the EU (especially Spain) is a significant player in exporting shark fins to the Asian market (Fowler & Séret, 2010).
In the UK, finning is banned on our fishing vessels thanks to the Fins Naturally Attached policy, but that does not mean that there are no shark fins in the country. The UK imports many tonnes of shark fins every year, as the dish is served in many Asian restaurants. In central London, in some establishments, the delicacy is sold for as much as £190 per pot!
As a member of the EU, the UK could not implement stricter controls on shark finning and fin import/exports. However, after the transition period at the end of this year, BREXIT will mean that the UK is free to make new laws regarding finning.
The UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs agrees that unsustainable finning must have stricter controls in the UK and stated that:
"Having left the EU,
the UK can champion conservation measures much more forcefully".
I must say, this is a very pleasant surprise to me, as I was concerned that BREXIT would mean all conservation legislation would be thrown out the window. On the contrary, it seems that our exit from the EU may give the UK an unprecedented opportunity to take a huge step in shark conservation!
Only time will tell whether the big-wigs in parliament agree with the 100,000 UK citizens who are demanding a ban on shark fins in the UK...
If you would like to support this movement, I would highly advise writing to your local MP. Shark Guardian have made this spectacularly easy by listing all appropriate MPs by location. Do something amazing and get your voice heard! It only takes 5 minutes!
Let's all get together and #finspirechangeUK!
Fowler S & Séret B (2010). Shark fins in Europe: Implications for reforming the EU finning ban. European Elasmobranch Association and IUCN Shark Specialist Group Report.
Passantino A (2014). The EU shark finning ban at the beginning of the new millennium: the legal framework. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 71:3, 429–434.