In August last year, two people walking along a deserted beach in northern New Zealand were shocked to discover 200 finless baby sharks washed ashore. A year later, Australian authorities investigated the discovery of another critically endangered Grey Nurse shark, washed ashore finless. Just last month, this photo of piles of finned baby sharks was taken by Slow Food at Joal Port in Senegal.
In films sharks are usually cast as the bad guy. But in real life, they are victims. In Senegal piles of finned sharks are commonplace. The fin meat is known as ‘gold’ for the high price it fetches on some Asian markets to satisfy demand for shark fin soup. In Europe sharks may not be washing up on the beaches, but fleets of boats are part of this worldwide phenomenon that is threatening shark populations. A report by the Pew Environment Group in June 2011 estimates some 73 million sharks are caught annually and 30 percent of species are threatened with extinction.
An increasing number of countries worldwide, including those in Central America as well as the United States and Taiwan, are implementing ‘fins-attached’ policies – meaning sharks must be bought to shore intact. Last month, the European Parliament voted in favor of the same approach, effectively strengthening the ban on shark finning that has been in place since 2003.
The Shark Alliance, which unites more than 130 organizations including Slow Food International and Slow Food Italy, states that EU vessels land more than 100,000 tons of sharks and rays (mostly blue sharks) from around the world annually. Spain is consistently responsible for more than half of these landings and three-quarters of the blue sharks taken.
Under the 2003 ban, EU fishermen with special permits – today issued only to Spanish and Portuguese boats – can remove shark fins at sea as long as bodies are also retained. Compliance is monitored with a complicated and lenient fin-to-carcass weight ration limit that leaves rooms for un-detected finning.
The campaign to strengthen the 2003 EU ban on shark finning, by getting rid of loopholes, was supported by a European Parliament vote in favor of all sharks being landed with fins attached. Led by the Shark Alliance, the campaign’s appeal to vote on the matter in the EU Parliament was signed by Carlo Petrini, Slow Food International president, and Silvio Greco, president of the Slow Fish Scientific Committee.
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Pew Environment Group