Shark Finning - Frequently Asked Questions

Finned Shark © Nancy Boucha.

➤   What is finning?

Finning is the process of cutting off the fins of a shark and discarding the body at sea. This wasteful and often cruel practice contradicts all principles of sustainable shark fisheries management and conservation.

➤   Why does shark finning occur?

While fins are very valuable, shark meat has limited commercial value, providing a strong incentive for shark finning. The major source of demand for shark fins is the market for shark fin soup. In some Far Eastern cultures this is a prestigious commodity, and a traditional means of honouring special guests or occasions.

➤   Who is involved in shark finning and where?

Finning occurs worldwide and is most common in high seas fisheries, hundreds of miles out to sea. Oceanic fishing fleets target valuable fish such as tuna, using thousands of baited hooks on miles of long-line, and freezing their catch onboard. Unfortunately, long-liners often catch several times as many sharks than they do tuna. Until relatively recently, this shark 'bycatch' was considered a nuisance, and sharks were cut loose and allowed to swim away. However, as shark fins have become increasingly valuable, fewer sharks are being released. Bycatch is often not officially landed at ports, therefore data on the extent of the trade are limited. Where figures exist, they suggest that Hong Kong is the world’s shark fin trading centre, accounting for an estimated 50% - 80% of all fins traded worldwide.

➤   Why are sharks vulnerable to exploitation?

Most sharks grow slowly, mature late and give birth to a few large pups after a long gestation period. Consequently, shark populations decline rapidly when targeted by fisheries and recover slowly, if at all. Shark populations may continue to decline, potentially until the last individuals have been removed and species become regionally extinct. There are now 110 species of chondrichthyan fish listed in a threat category on the IUCN's Red List, with a further 95 species listed as Near Threatened.

➤   Why oppose shark finning?

  • A live shark represents a danger on a fishing boat, many sharks are still alive when their fins are cut off, they are then thrown back into the sea to die a slow and painful death.
  • Finning is hugely wasteful - wet fins typically represent less than 5% of a shark’s body weight.
  • Most sharks are top predators and therefore play a key role in marine ecosystems by keeping their prey populations in check. Removing this control is likely to have a damaging effect on marine ecosystems.
  • Today many shark populations are experiencing a downward spiral of reduced populations due to increasing fishing pressure and increasing prices. However due to the covert nature of the fin trade fins originating from illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fisheries means that we have likely underestimated the effect on global shark populations.