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November 21, 2011

HSI Commends European Commission for its Proposal to End Shark Finning

Humane Society International/Europe

  • Sharks need protection. Michael Stubblefield/istock

BRUSSELS, Belgium—Humane Society International/Europe applauds the European Commission for adopting a strong draft legislative proposal on shark finning. This proposal seeks to amend Regulation (EC) No. 1185/2003 on the removal of fins of sharks on board vessels which is presently one of the weakest finning regulations in the world. The new legislation would ensure that all sharks caught by EU vessels anywhere in the world must be landed with their fins naturally attached to their carcasses, without exception.

Dr. Joanna Swabe, HSI director for the EU, said:

“We are delighted that Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki has delivered a robust proposal to close the gaping loopholes in the present EU shark finning regulation. It is, however, imperative that no attempt be made by any EU Member States or Members of the European Parliament to water down this legislative proposal. A ‘fins naturally attached’ policy, without exception, is the only way to end the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning.” 

The existing 2003 regulation on shark finning contains substantial loopholes that leave plenty of room for finning to occur.

Firstly, it includes a derogation that allows fishermen to remove the fins from sharks on board if they have a special permit to do so. For the Spanish and Portuguese longline fishing fleets, these permits have become the norm, rather than the exception.

Second, the EU has operated its shark fisheries under a “five percent rule” – allowing fins to be landed separately from carcasses, provided that they weigh no more than five percent of the whole shark. This means, in practice, two out of three sharks can still be finned while fishers apparently comply with the five percent rule.

The European Union is one of the largest exporters of shark fins to Asia. Spain and Portugal have the largest shark fisheries in Europe with pelagic longline fleets that operate in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.

A recent public consultation conducted by the European Commission, which presented three possible policy options with regard to amending the regulation, found massive public support for a “fins-attached” policy.


  • Most shark fins are unrecognisable, in terms of species, unless they are attached to the carcass. Conversely, many carcasses cannot be identified by species when detached from the fins. The Commission itself admits this problem of identification is a serious obstacle to rational management of the EU’s shark fisheries.
  • The current EU regulation allows room for “high-grading.” Fishers have been found to be removing and retaining high-value carcasses and high-value fins, while throwing overboard the low-value carcasses and fins. This enables them to fin large numbers of sharks and still present a catch at port that appears to abide by the five percent rule.
  • Shark carcasses may be landed at one port and fins at another. This makes it virtually impossible to apply the five percent rule. 
  • Sharks are very vulnerable to overfishing. Some European shark fisheries closed in the 1950s have yet to re-open because stocks have not rebounded.
  • One-third of European shark and ray species and one-third of open-ocean sharks are classified as “threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Significant numbers of open-ocean sharks, blue and mako in particular, are taken in EU high seas fisheries.
  • Economic growth in Asia has resulted in increasing demand for shark fin soup, the principal driver of shark finning. Sharks that used to be considered unwanted “bycatch” are now targeted specifically for their fins.
  • Spain has consistently been in the top seven exporters to almost all major markets, including Hong Kong, China and Taiwan.


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Humane Society International/Europe and its partner organisations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organisations — backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals through the use of science, advocacy, education and hands-on programmes. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide — on the Web at hsieurope.org.