Legislation and laws are only part of the equation. Once they are instituted, enforcement of these regulations must occur – to ensure compliance. Unfortunately, this is largely not the case.
Many governments are unable to fund efforts, as the costs are quite substantial.
Often sharkfinning or fishing bans are symbolic gestures, but not cost-effective endeavors in terms of actually enforcing them, and thus, they are meaningless. Patrolling thousands of nautical miles, effectively inspecting every boat and log book, and prosecuting offenders means hundreds of thousands if not millions of US dollars a year.
Many economically strained countries do not realize the value the sharks in the water play to their overarching country’s economics. This may require industrialized nations to step in and assist with the funding of these efforts.
Given the stakes, many governmental officials may also lack the political will to enforce their legislation. Bribery and corruption are common – ensuring wealthy middle-men can continue acquiring their valuable fins – for trade in other countries. In South Africa recently, a seized shipment of 4 tons of shark fins was sold back to the commercial fishery the fins were seized from.
The practice isn’t limited to members of the “shark fin mafia”. Governments of one country often put pressure on governments of others (whose waters have healthy shark populations) through under-the-table deals and large-scale investment. For instance, it is widely known the Costa Rican government accepted millions of dollars in infrastructure investments from Taiwan in return for the establishment of the “shark fin highway” – a series of private docks in Punteranas, allowing illegal shark fins to freely pass through by the hundreds of thousands.
Effectively enforcing bans also presents problems due to the black markets and the ease of smuggling fins, due to their size. Fins move out of the Galapagos easily – in suitcases. Most significantly, any regional or wide-scale regulation on the oceans is inherently difficult to enforce because it is nearly impossible to patrol the open sea.
Currently, Great White Sharks, Whale Sharks and Basking Sharks are the only sharks to have been listed on CITES Appendices. Even CITES only restricts “trade” in these shark species, not hunting or killing them. Worse yet, there is no international body to enforce this legislation.
Although only three species of shark that are protected from international trade out of over 500 are protected, this is not an indication of which species deserve to be protected, but rather a reflection of the inadequate methods we currently have of providing worldwide protection to endangered species.
Poor public image already threatens existing conservation measures like in South Africa where white sharks are protected, but if there is an attack, people threaten that protection by calling for them to be killed. This stems from an irrational fear and perceived ‘problem’ generated by the media.
A handful of shark species are protected, typically regionally, in small reserves. Even these sharks are the targets of illegal fishing. And legal shark fishing continues throughout the world – even in places like the Great Barrier Reef.