Public Calls on the UK Government to Debate a Total Ban on Shark Fin Trade
A petition calling for a ban on the import of shark fins into the UK has smashed the target 100,000 signatures required for the motion to be considered for debate in parliament.
The petition, started by shark conservation charity Shark Guardian, supported by Bite-Back, and shared widely by DIVE, amassed the final 30,000 signatures required to meet its 11 September deadline in just 4 days.
Shark finning – the practice of cutting fins from a living shark and discarding the rest of the animal to die – has been illegal in EU and UK waters since 2003, with a 2013 regulation stating that any sharks caught by fishermen must be landed with their fins 'naturally attached to the carcass'. Cutting fins from a shark that is not subject to restrictions means that a legal trade in shark fins remains, with up to 20kg of fins 'for personal consumption' allowed to be traded across international borders.
While the practice of trading such fins remains legal, shark-fin soup remains on the menu at restaurants across the EU. The billion-dollar worldwide shark fin market, however, is dominated by fins brutally harvested from living sharks, including a number of critically endangered species. Identifying 'legally' harvested fins from the mass market in illegal produce is almost impossible.
The UK Government has stated that it is currently unable to enforce a total ban on the trade in shark fins due to EU regulations. The idea of a ban was raised in the European Parliament in 2015, but rejected by the Commission on the basis that while shark-finning is illegal, the trade in fins from legally caught sharks is not.
An EU-wide campaign to ban the trade in fins, Stop Finning EU, began in 2019 with the launch of an EU Citizens Initiative (ECI). According to the ECI website, 'should the initiative receive one million statements of support within 1 year, from at least 7 different Member States, the Commission will have to react within 6 months.' Voting began in January 2020 and has so far collected just over 98,000 signatories.
The UK's imminent departure from the European Union means that UK citizens are unable to participate in the ECI. However, by means of the Parliamentary petition, campaigners have instead taken the opportunity to directly persuade the UK government to implement a total ban on shark fins once Brexit is complete.
A statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), written in response to the petition reaching 10,000 signatures, says that: 'The UK Government is strongly opposed to shark finning, the practise of removing the fins of a shark and discarding the body at sea. The UK has already banned the act of shark finning and has enforced a Fins Naturally Attached policy in order to combat illegal finning of sharks.'
The statement goes on to indicate that while the law on shark fin trading may be tightened, it does not explicitly say that an outright ban is on the cards, stating that '[the UK's] departure from the EU allows us to consider options to tighten the personal import allowance and improve the traceability of the shark in fin trade in the UK.'
The petition's success has been warmly welcomed by campaigners, however, the government's response suggests that the battle to ban shark fins is far from over.