The 12th May was a landmark day for sharks, and their advocates, in the UK as the government banned the trade of shark fins. While the practice of shark finning has long been banned by the UK, a loophole in European law has meant that anyone is legally allowed to bring up to 20kg of shark fins into the country. The law has now changed in the UK to mean this will no longer be the case.
Kris Mikael Krister, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Why is it important?
Sharks around the World are experiencing population declines – many to the point where they are facing extinction. The main threat to sharks is overfishing – for their fins and meat, and as bycatch (caught by fishing gear intended for other species).
Shark fins are used in a variety of products, the most common and widely known being shark fin soup. Demand for fins is higher than ever, and this demand is driving the value of each fin upwards. This value is understandably appealing, to those who make a living from fishing around the World. As a result, sharks are being fished to unsustainable levels (more are being taken, than the populations can support).
There are more than 1,000 species of sharks and rays, all playing their unique role in ocean ecosystems. Our actions are altering the balance, by removing these top predators. It is estimated that around 73 million sharks are killed globally each year by fishing fleets. We are driving individual species towards extinction, and in turn having impacts on the rest of the ocean ecosystems to which they belong.
What can be done?
The move to make the trade in shark fins illegal in the UK is a big step – it sends a clear message around the World. It is also the positive result of years of campaigning by organisations such as Bite Back, and all the people who have supported their campaigns, indicating the high level of public support for improved protection and conservation measures for sharks.
Ultimately what is needed is a reduction in demand for the product. This will drive the value down, and make fishing of sharks less productive. However, this is culturally very difficult to achieve. In the meantime policies, and their effective implementation, are what is needed to improve conservation efforts. As a result, people power really can make a difference, as has been seen in this case.
If you would like to help, one of the quickest and most effective things you can do, is to educate others of the ecological importance and beauty of sharks. Then raise awareness of the issues, and take positive action. Support campaigns and organisations which are working on shark conservation, and help them to engage with people and politicians to make change.