On June 29, 2023, The Shark Fins Act passed into law in the United Kingdom, protecting sharks in UK waters and a major step for conservation of sharks around the world. Following Canada and the USA, the Shark Fins Act will ban the import and export of detached shark fins, including all products containing shark fins such as canned shark fin soup.
Shark finning is the practice of removing the fins from a captured shark, and discarding the animal at sea, still living or dead. Often, sharks are captured as an untargeted or unintended catch (bycatch), in the tuna and swordfish industry. In the past, live sharks were released, but the high value and increased market for shark fins is creating huge incentive for fishermen to take the fins and discard the animal, leaving room in the ship’s hold for the more valuable meat of the tuna or swordfish.
The law follows Canada and the United States prohibiting the shark fin trade, and puts a major pinch to the flow of fins to China.
Shark finning has been banned in the UK (and the EU) since 2003 through the Shark Finning Regulation, and since 2009 a ‘Fins Naturally Attached’ policy has been enforced to further combat illegal finning of sharks in UK waters and by UK vessels worldwide. Condemned by the United Nations and illegal under international treaties including the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks (MoU) in 2012, the trade of fins from sharks caught legally, or through IUU fishing continues to impact shark populations.
Every year, the UK exports around 20 tonnes of shark fins, primarily from blue sharks but also thresher and endangered mako sharks to Spain where the fins are processed and shipped to Asia for shark fin soup.
The Shark Fins Act builds on existing protections by preventing the trade of detached shark fins and related products obtained using this method. Many species of shark now face significant population pressures. Out of over 500 species of shark, over 1/3 are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as Vulnerable to Critically Endangered.
Demand for shark fin products and associated overfishing is a significant factor causing the decline in shark populations globally. The UK will now join other nations helping to protect sharks and reduce the unsustainable overfishing of sharks.
Although shark finning has theoretically been prohibited in the EU since 2003, loopholes in the current legislation make the ban extremely difficult to enforce. Despite their immense ecological and societal value, marine megafauna are currently threatened by human exploitation, habitat loss, pollution, and ocean warming, which together have triggered population declines and local extinctions of many species over just the past century.
Shark Stewards applauds the example set by the United Kingdom ,and joins the StopFinningEU coalition and calls on the European Union to follow their lead to reduce impacts on Atlantic and global shark populations by facilitating the shark fin trade.