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Shark finning

(23/11/2012) The European Parliament has overwhelmingly voted to strengthen a previous Council Regulation which has banned shark finning since 2003.

Finning is the wasteful and unsustainable practice of removing and retaining sharks' fins while discarding the carcass at sea. Finned sharks are often tossed overboard to die a slow, inevitable death. When adopted, the new regulation will close a loophole in the 2003 Regulation which, due to weak control provisions, left potential room for finning to occur undetected. When making this proposal last November, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki stated that she wished to "eradicate the horrendous practice of shark finning and protect sharks much better".

The Commission's proposal for a new regulation requires that all sharks be landed with their fins still attached. This mirrors the view of the scientific world that making it mandatory for sharks to be landed with their fins naturally attached to the body is the most effective way to prevent finning. The 2003 regulation allowed, by derogation, for fins to be removed on board vessels, provided that the carcasses would also be retained. However, the control provisions associated with this derogation made it very difficult to ascertain beyond doubt whether finning was taking place or not.

The new regulation will ensure that no shark finning takes place undetected and unpunished. According to the International Union for Conservation for nature (IUCN), more than 25% of pelagic shark species are threatened. Therefore, when taking into account that the EU has the second-highest shark catch globally corresponding to over 16% of shark landings worldwide, it can be expected that this new regulation will have a far-reaching impact for these highly valuable species.

Taiwan, the USA and numerous Central American countries are among the growing list of countries which have already adopted a "fins naturally attached" policy. Furthermore, proposals which focus on this "fins-naturally attached" policy have been decentralised at regional level for the past few years. The EU's decision to move in this direction is therefore likely to tip the balance in favour of fins-attached rules at regional level, eventually making this the norm worldwide.

The new regulation will facilitate species identification and the collection of data essential to developing further conservation and management measures for various shark stocks. The Commission welcomes this decision in the long fight against shark finning.  It is convinced that this decision is another positive step towards safeguarding both species and economic sustainability in an ethical manner.