Shark-finning stance stain on our global reputation

KATRINA SUBEDAR
Last updated 08:41 04/12/2012
Shark finning

Shark finning uses only 2 per cent of caught sharks' bodies.

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OPINION: Imagine you're out fishing. You haul in a whopper fish. You kill it, slice off 2 per cent of its body, and throw the other 98 per cent into the sea. Imagine the fish species has undergone a massive population decline and its long-term survival is under question. Now imagine this is happening somewhere in the world every two seconds.

That's the reality of shark finning. An estimated 73 million to 100 million sharks are killed globally every year for their fins. Commercial fishers catch a shark, kill it, cut off its fins and dump the body overboard. The de-finned body represents 98 per cent of the shark's body. Most of this can be sold as meat, like the rig shark (cleverly rebranded as lemon fish) that makes up your Friday night fish and chips.

But more often than not, the shark is dumped at sea and only the high-value fins are kept. Shark fins are one of the world's most expensive seafood commodities. They're the prized ingredient of the luxury item shark fin soup and can fetch prices up to $1200 per kilogram.

The sheer waste of shark finning is mind-blowing. And given global shark populations have declined 80 per cent in the past 50 years, the long-term survival of some species isn't looking good.

That's why 98 countries have already banned shark finning. Australia, Canada, South Africa, much of the United States, fishing nations like the Bahamas and Ecuador, as well as the entire European Union, have cottoned on to the fact that if we let this wasteful, unsustainable practice continue, there will be no more sharks left to fish.

New Zealand hasn't figured it out yet. Here, it's legal to fin dead sharks - whether they're hauled in dead or killed on deck - and throw the body overboard.

Primary Industries Minister David Carter proclaimed that "we're world leaders in regards to the way we manage our fisheries". Right. Except we're behind at least 98 other countries.

We also don't meet the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, nor do we follow recommendations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Shark Specialist Group. In short, we're anything but world leaders.

The ministry is reviewing the 2008 National Plan of Action for sharks, which deals with how sharks are fished in a way that aims to balance conservation and the industry.

Banded under the New Zealand Shark Alliance (NZSA), Forest & Bird and groups such as Kelly Tarlton's, Greenpeace and those at The ITM Fishing Show have a very simple solution. We're asking that all caught sharks be brought ashore with the fins naturally attached. Fishers can still remove those valuable fins for export once on land. But by bringing in the whole shark, they'll be encouraged to use the rest of the body, not just a lousy 2 per cent. This increased sustainability would be a boost for our fishing industry that relies on the "clean green New Zealand" brand. And it's an obvious win for the environment as it slows down the rate at which we're fishing.

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It would be inexpensive and easy to monitor, and could provide the ministry with more accurate data on fishing hauls to better calculate fishing quota. So it's a win for the government as well.

However you feel about sharks, you can't help but respect these magnificent creatures. For over 410 million years they've kept populations of other aquatic carnivores in check, which in turn has an impact on all creatures further down the food chain. Yet, through the sheer waste of the shark-finning industry, which is reportedly growing by 5 per cent a year, we're reducing shark populations to dangerously low levels. We'll throw the whole delicately balanced marine ecosystem into chaos.

Many shark species are highly migratory. What we do here affects other nations. Countries that rely on sharks for tourism, like our Pacific Island nations, are desperate for shark-finning countries, like New Zealand, to stop. It really is a no-brainer. But we need New Zealanders to get behind the issue. Until we change the ways we fish, "clean green" New Zealand will continue to have blood on its hands. Shark finning must end here.

Visit nzsharkalliance.org.nz for more information.

Katrina Subedar is Forest & Bird's marine conservation advocate.

- The Dominion Post

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