Shark finning is decimating shark populations across the world. The sharks are caught then the fins removed and the sharks – sometimes still alive but fatally wounded – are thrown back overboard. Some countries have regulations limiting the amount of bodiless fins that can be landed, but is it enough?
Many counties, including the UK and other EU countries allow detached fins to be landed as long as the weight of the fins do not exceed 5% of the bodyweight of landed sharks. It is meant to allow processing of the sharks to take place aboard ships. The bodies of the sharks are still meant to be bought ashore rather than dumped at sea. [pullquote]Sharks are sensitive to overfishing and it’s embarrassing how little we have done to protect them.[/pullquote]
Is 5% fin weight too much to conserve sharks?
A new study undertaken by researchers at University of British Columbia seems to suggest that the 5% mark still allows for nearly 1 shark to be finned and thrown overboard for every shark that is finned and landed.
The study published in Fish Biology indicates that the average weight of a shark fin in relation to it’s body is only 3% – well under the current 5% limit allowed.
“The five percent ratio provides an opportunity to harvest extra fins from more sharks without retaining 100 per cent of the corresponding shark carcasses,” says Sea Around Us Project researcher Leah Biery, lead author of the study. “It does not prevent waste or overfishing, as the law intended.”
Shark species and finning methods produced wide variations.
The marine biologists looked at the relationship between fin and body wieght of 50 species of shark. They also looked at the different fin cutting practises within 8 different countries. The variation between species and fin cutting practise was substantial.
The ration of fin to body weight for different species ranged from as low as 1.1% up to 10.9%. For the eight countries examined in the survey depending on species found and fin cutting method employed the percentage of fin to body weight ranged from 1.5% to 6.1%.
When all the figures were compiled and analysed it was determined that the average weight of a shark fin made up 3% of the weight of the shark.
Up to 73 million sharks killed each year.
It’s difficult to estimate the number of sharks killed each year but it has been estimated at anything between 26 million and 73 million sharks. Only 59 countries around the world have any sort of regulations in place to monitor or restrict the catching or finning of sharks.
“Sharks are sensitive to overfishing and it’s embarrassing how little we have done to protect them,” says Daniel Pauly, principal investigator of UBC’s Sea Around Us Project and co-author of the study. “We would like to see more science in the management and protection of sharks in the coming years.”
Overfishing of sharks can have a devastating impact on their populations. Sharks are long lived fish and reproduce slowly. They tend to have few offspring and will reach maturity quite late for fish species. This means recovery of populations and species can take many years.
Journal of Fish Biology: A global review of species-specific shark-fin-to-body-mass ratios and relevant legislation.