Photo: Nicholas Wang/Flickr
In an effort to protect endangered sharks as well as better monitor how many and what species are being caught, India has announced a ban on the practice of shark finning. Fishermen violating the law face seven years in prison.
According to data compiled by the UN India catches the second-most sharks in the world, averaging over 74,000 tons per year from 2000-2008. Indonesia leads the world, landing over 109,000 tons annually. Indonesia and India together are responsibly for 20 percent of the global shark catch. Rounding out the top ten fishers of sharks are Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, the United States, Japan, and Malaysia.
The same data show that some 73 million sharks are killed each year simply for their fins—the overwhelming majority of which are destined for China. Somewhere between 50 to 80 percent of the global trade passes through Hong Kong, where shark fin soup is considered a delicacy and increasingly consumed as a sign of wealth.
Globally, around 30 percent of shark species are threatened or near-threatened with extinction. With around 100 million sharks killed every year, eliminating the wasteful and inhumane practice of shark finning—that is, catching sharks, removing their fins at sea and dumping the body—is a good goal. But removing the fins on land for consumption along with the rest of the animal is not considered shark finning, and would still be legal in India.
In India most sharks are caught for their meat, but in 2012 the nation exported some $4.8 million worth of shark fins to China. Globally, the shark fin trade is valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, although it's trending downward. But while India is a large player in shark fishing, but a relatively minor one in the shark fin trade—at least according to official figures.
Again, under the new ban, the export of shark fins is not prohibited, only not landing the entire fish. Nevertheless, campaigners seem pleased with the move. Bhanu Sridharan of Researchers for Wildlife Conservation India says:
The fins attached policy will ensure better monitoring of shark fishing in India, and end the capture of endangered shark species in Indian waters. We hope the Ministry and local authorities will now ensure stringent enforcement of this rule, particularly at landing sites. In the long term, it is crucial for the Central Government to also develop an effective mechanism for preventing illegal foreign fishing vessels from engaging in shark finning in Indian waters, as this is detrimental to marine biodiversity and to the livelihoods of Indian fishing communities.
Globally the pressure to either ban shark finning has been growing as the trade itself grows despite bans on the practice by fishing organizations such as the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission in parts of the Pacific, in Taiwan, the United States, and for certain species in a wider swath of nations. However, the number of places where import or possession of the fins themselves is banned is much smaller, despite high profile bans in Illinois, Oregon, Washington, San Francisco, and New York, which signed a ban into law earlier this month.