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June 15, 2012

Shark Finning in Focus

What HSI is doing to save sharks from a brutal practice

Humane Society International

The practice of shark finning—cutting the fins off a shark and throwing the animal back into the ocean to die—became a focus of HSI’s in 2005 due to the inherent cruelty of this dangerously efficient and ecologically destructive technique.

Tens of millions of sharks suffer this fate each year as a result of the demand for shark fin soup. Our early efforts to address shark finning focused on banning the practice itself by promoting regulations that require all sharks to be landed with fins still attached as well as on educating consumers using our No Shark Fin pledge.

Making progress

Since our campaign began, regulations to ban the practice of shark finning have been endorsed by various bodies of the United Nations and implemented by the United States, Taiwan, Chile, and Central America, among others. Nowadays, most fishing authorities say they are opposed to the practice of finning; however, the removal of shark fins at sea continues to be legal in many of the world’s oceans.

Help by signing our No Shark Fin pledge.

Even if finning were banned all around the world, using shark fins in soup would be completely legal and sharks would continue to be overfished (even if landed whole) to feed the demand for this luxury dish. In 2010, a forward-thinking Senator in Hawaii, Clayton Hee, introduced legislation to end the possession, sale and trade of shark fins in Hawaii. HSI worked with the Hawaii state director for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to gain support for and counter opposition to this bill. It wasn’t easy. Fishing and restaurant industry representatives were concerned about the effect on their profits. Some members of the Asian community on the island did not support the bill, while many Asian Americans, including community leaders such as former First Lady of Hawaii, Vicky Cayetano, herself a Chinese American, championed the campaign with The HSUS and Senator Hee.

But public sentiment was on the side of HSI and the sharks and Hawaii became the first state in the United States to ban the sale of shark fin. With our support, similar bans were adopted in Guam, the Marianna Islands, multiple cities in Canada including Toronto, and in the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington. As of this writing, legislation was pending to ban the sale of shark fin in New York, Illinois, Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey and Maryland and to ban imports of shark fin into Canada. Other places have gone a step further by prohibiting all shark fishing as well as the sale of all shark products, including the Marshall Islands, the Bahamas, and Sabah in Malaysia.

Raising awareness

In Asia, where shark fin soup originated, HSI works with local partners to educate the public about the role that this dish plays in the plight of sharks and an increasing number of celebrities, policymakers, businesses and advocates now publically shun this unsavory tradition. The Chinese basketball star Yao Ming is probably the most outspoken shark advocate, known for his public service announcement urging viewers to say no to shark fin soup. Malaysian Chinese Hollywood star Michelle Yeoh joined advocates, including HSI, in a letter of support to the Malaysia minister who banned shark fishing. Hawaiian-Chinese Hollywood actress Kelly Hu joined us in support of Hawaii’s measure to ban the trade and sale of shark fins.

Even in Hong Kong, which handles more than 50 percent of the global trade in shark fins, increasing awareness and support is evident. During the past few months, the Peninsula Hotels Group and the Shangri-La Hotels and Groups, two of the world’s top luxury hospitality businesses with headquarters in Hong Kong, announced that they would stop serving shark fin soup in 2012. They joined a host of prominent businesses that have pledged their support for the No Shark Fin campaign, such as Hong Kong Disney, Coca Cola Hong Kong, Citibank Hong Kong, and others. In Singapore, the largest supermarket chain, NTCU Fairprice with a network of 230 outlets, recently announced that it would remove shark fin products from its inventory in the first quarter of 2012.

This growing momentum to save sharks has also spread to mainland China. Last year concerned Chinese legislators proposed a motion to ban the import of shark fins, a move widely applauded by the international community.

Hope for the future

Meanwhile, sharks continue to be finned and overfished. Where they exist, shark fishing and finning bans face enforcement difficulties as illegal, unreported and underreported fishing is common. Very few species of shark are covered by regional fisheries management agreements and even fewer are regulated by CITES. Public awareness of the threats facing sharks is on the rise but fishing management measures are sorely lagging behind. It remains to be seen whether or not action is being taken quickly enough.