The UK is banning the import and export of detached shark fins and products containing them.

  • Import and export of detached shark fins banned to promote shark conservation
  • Trade ban will extend to shark fin products including tinned shark fin soup
  • Endangered and overfished species including shortfin mako and blue shark are among those to benefit from greater protections
Blue Shark
Blue Shark

According to the International Ocean Minister Lord Goldsmith, the UK will go further than any other country to stop the cruel practice of shark finning.

Scientists have estimated that between 63 and 273 million sharks are killed each year.  Out of over 500 species of shark, 143 are listed as ‘under threat’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature – with different species ranging from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘critically endangered’.

Oceanic whitetip shark

Demand for shark fin products is a significant driver for these pressures, alongside over-fishing. It’s hoped that banning detached fins from being brought into the UK will help to protect wild populations of shark species, such as the endangered short fin mako shark and overfished blue shark, which have both declined rapidly as a result of unsustainable fishing practices.

Lord Goldsmith said: “Shark finning is indescribably cruel and causes thousands of shark to die terrible deaths. It is also unforgivably wasteful. The practice is rightly banned in UK waters, but the trade continues, with serious implications for the future of these magnificent creatures. That is why we are now banning the import both of detached shark fins and shark fin products.

Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust commented: “The Shark Trust welcomes the prohibition in trade in detached fins as the next action in a history of proactive moves by the UK Government, which supported leaving fins naturally attached as best practice years before adoption of the policy by the EU in 2013. It is encouraging to see the UK addressing the fin trade as an element of overfishing: the principal threat to sharks and rays.

Why we need sharks

Fewer sharks = coral covered in algae

Fewer sharks = loss of carbon-capturing seagrass meadows

Fewer sharks = loss of commercial fishery species

Fewer sharks = lost income from recreational scuba divers

Fewer sharks = Species diversity and abundance declines with the loss of habitats

Healthy coral reef
Healthy coral reef

The loss of sharks has led to the decline in coral reefs, seagrass beds and the decline of commercial fisheries. More predators mean more diverse ecosystems. For example, by taking sharks out of the coral reef ecosystem, the larger predatory fish like groupers, increase in abundance and feed on the herbivores. With less herbivores, macroalgae expands and coral can no longer compete, shifting the ecosystem to one of algae dominance and affecting the survival of the reef system.

When large sharks disappear from an area, the smaller rays can take over. In North Carolina this meant the collapse of the century old scallop fishery. Cownose rays replaced the sharks and hoovered up almost all the scallops. With the scallops gone they went for the oysters and clams.

Dive tourism makes significant income for countries protecting their sharks. In Palau, for example, researchers have estimated that an individual reef shark in Palau is annually worth US$179,000.

References and Further Reading

Griffin, E., Miller, K.L., Freitas, B. and Hirshfield, M. Predators as Prey: Why Healthy Oceans Need Sharks, Oceana, 2008.

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