Shark finning has for many years been a central issue in shark conservation. It’s probably the most talked about and emotive problem and it’s certainly the most common search on this website.

But after years of talking about shark finning, surely things have moved on. Why is it still an issue after all these years?

The truth is, the picture is changing. With partners across the world, we’ve been at the centre of fisheries reform for over 20 years. Thanks to awareness-raising campaigns and governmental conservation commitments, there’s been significant progress in shark conservation and fisheries management.

So, what’s the current state of affairs?

What is shark finning?

Shark finning applies to the practice of removing fins at sea and returning the fin-less shark to the water. This is a highly wasteful practice. And it's a major barrier to effective fisheries management. Fins can’t be easily identified on their own. So, when finning occurs, we lose valuable information on which species have been caught.

But it’s worth noting that not all shark fishing involves finning. Removing fins from the shark and bringing fins and carcass to port is NOT classed as finning, neither is removing fins once ashore.

Has it been banned?

Finning has been banned by many major fishing nations (including the EU) and by all of the international high seas management bodies (RFMO’s). It’s estimated that about 70 individual nations have adopted finning bans and that number continues to grow.

Finning bans vary between nations but generally take one of two forms:

  1. Full Utilisation – this is where fins may be removed at-sea but body and fins must be brought ashore for sale and use. The weights of fins and carcasses should be within an accepted ratio. Under these types of bans, fins can be stored separately from the body before being brought ashore. In some cases they may even be “landed” in different ports. This can make the bans very difficult to enforce.

  2. Fins Naturally Attached – this is a stronger measure which requires that fins remain attached to the body until brought to land.

These bans have been hard-fought. For example the adoption of the strengthened EU finning ban in 2013 was the culmination of a 6 year campaign by the Trust working as a partner in the Shark Alliance. The campaign gained a huge amount of public support from across Europe. Its success represented a massive step forward for shark conservation.

What’s the problem then?

There are 2 main problems;

  1. There are loopholes in the full utilization approach. Unscrupulous fishermen can exploit the fin to carcass ratio to continue finning for part of their catch. This not only increases overall catch but also complicates management.

  2. Illegal fisheries ignore bans and best practice. Here there are issues of detection and enforcement which undermine all efforts to control finning and manage shark fisheries.

This is why we continue to push for universal adoption of Fins Naturally Attached (FNA). It ends all at-sea fin removal, eases enforcement and aids science-based management.

Our Stop Shark Finning Campaign targets the universal adoption of FNA. And aims to reduce IUU fisheries and ensure enforcement of shark fisheries control measures.

You can find out more about our work on high seas fisheries through the Shark League.

Should we ban shark fin?

The important thing to bear in mind is that banning finning is not the same as banning fins. For all the reasons above, we're absolutely opposed to finning as a wasteful practice that prevents responsible management of fisheries.

But, in theory, it’s possible to have finning bans enforced, fisheries being appropriately managed and still have shark fins coming to market.

Simply banning the sale of fins doesn't stop shark finning nor does it reduce the overall mortality of sharks. 

What should I do about Shark Fin Soup?

We believe that positive change is possible and that we should be able to envisage a future where cultural traditions can sit alongside environmental sustainability. This might seem a long way off but we have to hold it as a long-term goal.

In the meantime it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter responsibly sourced shark fin soup and so shark fin should be avoided.

If you’re concerned about a restaurant or retailer selling shark fin or any other shark product, then ask them about their sustainable seafood policy. If they can’t satisfy you that they're sourcing responsibly then make an alternative choice and politely let the management know about your views.

With continued support for sustainable products, retailers and restaurants will seek out supply chains that can satisfy their customers.

What are the Shark Trust doing now?

We have to keep pushing for sustainably managed fisheries aligned with responsible trade and consumption. You can find out more about the Global Shark & Ray Initiative and how we're working to transform fisheries.