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April 25, 2012

Loopholes in EU Shark Finning Legislation Must Close, Says European Parliament’s Environment Committee

Welcomed by Humane Society International/Europe

Humane Society International/Europe

  • We're working to stop shark finning. Douglas Hoffman

BRUSSELS—Humane Society International/Europe has welcomed strong backing by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee for the European Commission’s proposal to amend the current EU ban on shark finning. The practice involves cutting off a shark's fins, sometimes while the animal is still alive, and throwing the carcass overboard. Currently, the EU has one of the weakest finning regulations in the world.

Regulation (EC) No. 1185/2003 allows the on board removal of fins by vessels in possession of a special permit, but stipulates that, upon landing, the fins should weigh no more than 5 percent of the weight of the carcasses, a rule that is easily flouted and difficult to enforce, given that the special permits also allow fins and carcasses to be landed at separate ports. The proposed amendment of this 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.

Tens of millions of sharks are killed every year in oceans around the world to meet the demand for shark fin soup, an East Asian dish traditionally served at weddings or New Year celebrations. The European Union is one of the largest exporters of shark fins to Asia, despite the fact that one-third of European shark and ray species and one-third of open-ocean sharks are classified as “threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Dr. Joanna Swabe, director of Humane Society International/Europe, said:

“With so many species of shark and ray under threat, it is essential that the gaping loopholes in European Union law that allow the cruel and unsustainable practice of shark finning are closed once and for all. Humane Society International commends the rapporteur, MEP Andrea Zanoni, and ENVI committee members for their robust support for a ‘fins naturally attached’ policy and we sincerely hope that their colleagues in the Fisheries Committee will take note, and resist the self-serving attempts by the shark fishing industry to block this essential measure.”

The Fisheries Committee, which is expected to vote in June followed by a plenary vote in September, is the lead decision-making committee for the shark finning dossier, but political opinion there has been divided, largely along national lines with some resistance from Spanish and Portuguese MEPs. For example, while morally condemning the practice of finning, the Portuguese EPP rapporteur, Maria do Céu Patrão Neves, has thus far strongly opposed the Commission’s ”fins naturally attached” proposal on the grounds that European fishing fleets will be negatively impacted. Spain and Portugal have the largest shark fisheries in Europe.

Mrs. Patrão Neves has proposed alternative measures such as granting special permits for onboard fin removal only to freezer vessels and the standardisation of fin cutting techniques. However, HSI/ Europe believes such measures are completely insufficient to prevent finning and that a fins naturally attached policy is the only way to effectively eradicate the practice of shark finning.

EU Political Facts:

  • The Commission’s proposal has received a high level of political support so far. The Council of the European Union has adopted a general approach supporting the Commission's proposal to amend the current EU shark finning legislation. It is believed that Spain and Portugal were the only EU Member States to raise objections to the Commission's proposal. Their votes are insufficient to form a blocking minority within the Council.
  • In the Fisheries Committee, the shadow rapporteurs for the S&D, ALDE, Greens/EFA and ECR political groups have also come out strongly in support of fins naturally attached.
  • In December 2010, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution calling for the Commission to deliver a proposal to strengthen the current finning ban by adopting a “fins naturally attached” policy without exception following a Written Declaration that was signed by 423 MEPs, including the rapporteur Mrs Patrão Neves.
  • If the legislative proposal is adopted by both the European Parliament and Council, the EU will finally be in a position to promote the fins attached policy in Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, thereby contributing to the eradication of shark finning across the globe.


Media contact: Wendy Higgins, EU Communications Director HSI/UK: whiggins@hsi.org, +44(0) 7989 972 423

Notes to Editors: The European Commission has proposed amending Regulation (EC) No. 1185/2003 on the removal of fins of sharks on board vessels.

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