Certainly It Must Be Illegal to Sell Shark Fins and Other Products?
Shark products, including shark fin, can legally be sold anywhere in the world. A few countries and locations recently have banned the import, possession and trade of shark fin. These include Saipan, Guam, Hawaii and Washington. Fortunately, this a movement on the rise, with legislation being proposed in other areas of the US and Canada. We think this is the best way to protect sharks - as shark finning is leading to the destruction of sharks far more than any other cause. However, no local, district or national laws exist to prohibit the sale of shark products on the whole.
However, three species (whale, basking, white) are restricted in international trade by the United Nations Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) signed by 175 nations. These species are on Appendix II, meaning the trade of whale, basking or white shark products requires the appropriate permits. The participating countries are responsible for enforcing the treaty’s provisions and imposing penalties upon individuals caught illegally smuggling products.
Certain countries also protect specific species, for instance, in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and the State of California, it is illegal to sell any white shark products (and furthermore, harm a white shark), as the white shark is a protected species. A growing number of countries protect the basking shark and whale shark nationally as well. Australia also protects the Grey Nurse shark also known as the Raggedtooth or Sand Tiger Shark within its territorial waters.
Legal protection does not imply these animals are truly protected. For instance, in South Africa, the Natal Sharks Board who operate the shark nets are permitted to catch and kill white sharks, and it is a widely known fact South Africa has an illegal fishing problem, with commercial and recreational fishermen alike catching white sharks to feed a growing international black market for white shark jaws, fins and teeth.
Many countries are engaged in either trading or supplying shark fin. More than 100 countries are involved in the business of trading in shark fins with most exporting to the main consumer nations: mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. The United States and the European Union also import significant quantities to local Chinese communities.
There are currently no binding international treaties or legislation that prohibit or even regulate shark finning, let alone address the management of shark populations globally.
The first multi-lateral organization to address the issue of shark finning was the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In 1999, an International Plan of Action for Sharks was created that recommends sharks be landed with their fins intact.
Many believe this is the best way to limit shark finning – as requiring sharks to be landed whole significantly reduces the amount of sharks that can be caught and the time a fishing boat can spend at sea. A ship can only hold a finite number of whole sharks, but exponentially more fins when removed from the sharks as fins account for only between 2 – 5% of total body weight. When shark finning occurs at sea, the less valuable shark body can be thrown back, and a fishing boat can stay at sea for months finning tens of thousands of sharks at once.
Since 1999, the UN General Assembly and some Regional Fisheries Management Organizations that span multiple countries have issued recommendations that sharks should not be killed solely for their fins and should be landed whole and fully utilized. These recommendations are just that: voluntary recommendations. None of them are legally binding and few countries adhere to them.