Fins cut, live sharks tossed back

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009
SUPPLIED/Nelson Mail
GRISLY PRACTICE: Sharks which were thrown back in the water with their fins removed.

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Sharks are being caught in the Nelson region and illegally thrown back alive with their fins removed.

Department of Conservation Abel Tasman ranger Stu Houston said he came across a fishing boat in park waters on Tuesday, which had caught about 29 1m sand sharks and cut off their fins, throwing the mutilated sharks over the side. Some of the sharks were still alive.

"It's such a waste," Mr Houston said. "I've been a ranger down here for 14 years; that's one of the worst things I've seen, to be honest."

It is legal to catch sharks for their fins in New Zealand, although under the Animal Welfare Act the sharks must be dead when thrown back.

Sharks in New Zealand are caught under the quota system, and mainly sold to Asia. Landing only the fin gives fishermen room to store more valuable fish.

Mr Houston said if people knew the practice was legal they would be appalled. "Is that what we do in New Zealand?"

He said he approached the fishermen, who were on a boat from the Nelson region.

The boat was fishing between Adele Island and the mainland, and kayakers and water taxis had seen the dead and dying sharks.

DOC would not be taking any action as it was a Fisheries Ministry issue, Mr Houston said.

French Pass resident and charter boat operator Danny Boulton said he had written to Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton about the issue as he was so concerned.

Shark finning happened regularly throughout the Sounds, he said.

Mr Boulton said he had a BBC cameraman on his boat one day who was appalled to see the practice.

The cameraman had worked around the world and said many Third World countries didn't fish that way.

It was a waste, Mr Boulton said, and he was concerned fishing was depleting the species.

"These sharks, I see them on the reefs, they are really beautiful to see."

Ministry of Fisheries Nelson inshore fisheries manager Scott Williamson said a Richmond company processed shark fins.

The value of the fins depended on the species, and some sharks were reasonably lucrative.

He was not aware of the Abel Tasman incident, but would be looking into it, he said.

The ministry's main responsibility was to ensure the sustainability of sharks and it had released a consultation paper on shark management and conservation.

Submissions on the paper close on February 1. For more information visit www.fish.govt.nz.

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- The Nelson Mail

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