• SharkieSophie

The UK is Finspiring Change!

Updated: Nov 16

For those Brittons who were devastated by the result of the BREXIT referendum, it was difficult to imagine that any good could come from this shocking and surprising decision. However, in the summer of 2021, amidst the horror of a global pandemic, the Brits received some VERY welcome, good news... The government announced a ban on the import and export of shark fins within the UK! But what does this ban actually mean? What has the UK made illegal? What will this change mean for the UK and what will it mean for sharks?


UK Conservative government press release graphic, August 2021

What is Shark Finning?

For hundreds of years, shark fins have been valued in Asian cultures. After shark fin soup was served to the emperor of the Chinese Sung Dynasty in AD 968, the dish has been considered a great delicacy. As the challenge of catching a mighty shark, only to use the fins, showed power and strength, shark fin soup is considered a symbol of wealth and generosity (Shea & To, 2017).


But shark fishing a thousand years ago was very different to shark fishing today! More recently, shark finning has occurred on an industrial scale (Shea & To, 2017, Ebert et al, 2021).

The areas targeted by shark finners (Image Credit: Grolltech, CC BY-SA 3.0, Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org)

"Shark finning" is the practice of fishing sharks solely for their fins. This involves removing the fins, often whilst the shark is still alive, and discarding the rest of the carcass at sea. Not only does this mean that the vast majority of the shark's body is wasted, but it is also incredibly cruel, as the shark is left to slowly drown or bleed to death at the bottom of the ocean. In short, shark finning is a disgracefully cruel and unnecessarily wasteful practice (Shea & To, 2017, Ebert et al, 2021).


“Shark finning is indescribably cruel and causes thousands of shark to die terrible deaths. It is also unforgivably wasteful."

- Lord Goldsmith, UK International Ocean Minister




Shark Finning is Devastating for Sharks and Whole Ecosystems!

Shark finning has had an enormous impact on shark populations on a global scale! The fishing of sharks for their fins is completely unsustainable. As a result, global shark abundance has been dropping rapidly in recent decades, and many species of sharks and rays have been pushed to the brink of extinction thanks to their overexploitation by the finning industry. Today over a quarter of all sharks and rays are considered at risk of extinction in the wild (Ebert et al, 2021, IUCN).



“Our action will not only help boost shark numbers, it will send a clear message that we do not support an industry that is forcing many species to the brink of extinction.”

- Lord Goldsmith, UK International Ocean Minister



Not only are such extreme declines a worry for the future of sharks themselves, but there has also been grave concern about ocean ecosystem collapse as a result of shark overexploitation. Scientists have predicted trophic cascades and severe, global impacts due to the loss of sharks (Ferretti et al, 20210, Ebert et al, 2021).


IUCN Extinction Risk categories of all species of sharks by taxonomic grouping (Ebert et al, 2021)

A Global Movement to Ban Shark Finning!

In recent years, a movement against shark finning has been brewing amongst conservationists and animal rights activists all around the world... Many nations, including the UK, have made finning illegal within their waters. This involves either demanding sharks be landed whole, or shark carcasses and fins must tally up to prove that there was no discard out at sea (Bräutigam et al, 2015).


However, many believe that the steps that have been taken are not enough...


"The UK will go further than any other country to stop the cruel practice of shark finning".

- Lord Goldsmith, UK International Ocean Minister



Shark fins drying in the sun (Image Credit: Lana Lan / Shutterstock)

Why Has the UK Banned Shark Fin?

You might ask yourself, 'What does this have to do with the UK?'. 'Surely shark finning doesn't happen in UK waters and we don't eat shark fin soup, right?' Wrong! Shark finning is an ecological issue which affects every single nation on this Earth. Ecosystem-wide consequences effect each and every one of us. Whatsmore, we all play a part in fuelling the global shark fin trade! (Bräutigam et al, 2015).


Top countries exporting shark fins into China (Shea & To, 2017)

Whilst China, and Hong Kong especially, is the greatest consumer of shark fins, they are NOT the only nation responsible for excessive shark finning! In fact, Indonesia, India and Spain are consistently the countries responsible for highest shark catches in the world! The USA has also been identified as a country that needs to consume shark products more responsibly, and France, Spain, Italy, Australia, Mexico and many countries in South-East Asia have been identified as participating in irresponsible trade in shark products! For more details, you can check out It's a Small World After All. (Bräutigam et al, 2015, Shea & To, 2017).



Shark finning has been banned in UK waters for 20 years, but the country still imported and exported shark fins. It was also possible for any citizen to bring 20kg of shark fins into the country for personal use. Therefore the UK contributed to the global trade in shark fins.


However, after a Shark Guardian campaign raised hundreds of thousands of signatures of support, in May 2021 the UK government made the decision to ban the import and export of detached shark fins into the UK!


This was only possible because of BREXIT (believe me, this was surprising to me too!). Whilst a member of the European Union all legislation had to be run past every member state, but after BREXIT the UK is now able to make much more radical decisions. In this instance, this has turned out to be a very good thing.


"With this new shark fin ban in place, the UK has championed the way forward for others to follow when it comes to protecting sharks worldwide, and we hope that the EU can follow in the footsteps of the UK."

- Brendan Sing, Shark Guardian charity director




What Does the UK Fin Ban Include?

So what does this new legislation actually mean? What is now illegal?

The government press release introducing this new legislation on the 15th August 2021 stated that detached shark fins may not now be imported in or exported out of the UK, and this will also include any processed products that include fins, like tinned shark fin soup (DEFRA, 2021).



The UK has certainly now set the bar very high and is setting and incredible example as a world leader in animal welfare and conservation. I have never felt more proud to be British! Hopefully, this bold decision will inspire other nations to take steps to do their part to stop the global trade in shark fin! There is already a significant citizen's initiative to ban shark fin trade in the EU (Stop Finning EU)... So, fingers crossed, we will be hearing more fantastic announcements from other countries in the very near future.


What are the laws on finning and shark fin import export in your country?

Is there something you can do today to push your government to make changes!?


Sharks are fished for their meat and fins (Image credit: Anastasios71 / Shutterstock)

References

Bräutigam A, Callow M, Campbell IR, Camhi MD, Cornish AS, Dulvy NK, Fordham SV, Fowler SL, Hood AR, McClennen C, Reuter EL, Sant G, Simpfendorfer CA & Welch DJ (2015). Global Priorities for Conserving Sharks and Rays: A 2015–2025 Strategy. Access online.


DEFRA (2021). United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Press release, 15th August 2021. Access online.


Ebert DA, Dando M& Fowler S (2021). Sharks of the World: A Complete Guide, Second Edition. Princeton University Press: UK. IBAN: 978-0-691-20599-1.


Ferretti F, Worm M, Britten G, Heithaus M & Lotze H (2010). Patterns and ecosystem consequences of shark declines in the ocean. Ecology Letters, 13, 1055–1071. Access online.


Shea LH & To AWL (2017). From boat to bowl: Patterns and dynamics of shark fin trade in Hong Kong ― implications for monitoring and management. Marine Policy, 81, 330–339. Access online.



By Sophie A. Maycock for SharkSpeak.

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