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July 11, 2011

Tuna Commission Approves Whitetip Shark Protection in Eastern Pacific, But Finning Ban Remains Weak

Humane Society International

WASHINGTON – Humane Society International applauds the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, the international body that oversees commercial fishing in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, for its ground-breaking decision that fisheries must promptly release all oceanic whitetip sharks that are caught. However, HSI is disappointed that proposals to protect endangered hammerhead sharks and to address shark finning failed to be adopted.

Under new rules, this year’s meeting was the first to consider limits on shark fishing. Shark fishing was largely unregulated in the region, aside from a ban on shark finning that has significant loopholes and enforcement issues.

A resolution submitted by the European Union and Japan to prohibit catches of oceanic whitetip shark was adopted, while a similar resolution submitted by the EU to prohibit catches of hammerhead sharks was not. Both these species are popular in the shark fin trade and show evidence of alarming declines in the region.

Another proposal that failed to be adopted was submitted by Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama to strengthen the ban on shark finning by requiring that sharks are landed with their fins naturally attached, the only way to ensure that sharks have not been finned. Of the 21 IATTC member countries, only ten have regulations to address shark finning and only five of those prohibit the removal of shark fins at sea.

“Humane Society International is pleased to see that expanding  the Convention’s remit to cover  sharks has produced some positive results this year” said Rebecca Regnery, deputy director of wildlife for HSI. “But we urge member countries to strengthen the ban on the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning, which is a key driver of the drastic declines in shark populations.”

Shark management is hindered by the IATTC’s weak finning ban, which allows the removal of shark fins at sea, making the identification of individual species very difficult. A “fins-attached” policy would enable countries to assess their shark catches by species, thereby facilitating the adoption of effective conservation measures. Action should be taken before species reach the critical state that oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and silky sharks in this region are now in.

Facts:

  • "Finning" refers to the act of cutting off a shark's fins and throwing the rest of the shark back into the sea. It is estimated that tens of millions of sharks are killed to supply the wasteful demand for shark fin soup every year.
  • The current IATTC finning ban adopted in 2005 requires that carcasses be retained, but allow the fins to be removed from the carcasses at sea provided that, when landed and weighed, the fins weigh no more than 5 percent of the weight of the shark. Experts say that this could allow two out of every three sharks to be finned without violating the regulations.
  • In January of this year, President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act, to strengthen the federal law against shark finning at sea and require that sharks be landed with their fins still attached.
  • Fins-attached policies require no weighing, therefore facilitating compliance. Shark conservation is greatly enhanced by fins-attached policies, as fishers have to store every shark that they catch, reducing the total catches and ensuring full usage of the carcasses and decreased wastage.
  • Sharks are apex predators whose survival affects all other marine species and entire ocean ecosystems. The practice of shark finning is global and has led to severe declines in shark populations. Unlike other fish species, sharks produce very few young and mature slowly and consequently, overexploited populations can take years or even decades to recover.

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