Sharks have ruled the oceans for over 400 million years. But the unsustainable killing of these creatures and the inhumane practice of shark finning are drawing these magnificent creatures closer to extinction.
Sharks are in decline around the world, and New Zealand too is contributing to the problem. Shark fishing in our waters has increased dramatically over the past 15 years. On average 24,000 tonnes of shark – the equivalent weight of 300,000 people – are caught every year in New Zealand waters.
New Zealand has at least 112 shark species. Of these, 73 species are known to be caught by our fisheries, including 28 that are listed as “threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Only great whites and basking sharks are currently protected in our waters.
Shark Finning – New Zealand’s Shame
Every year over 100 million sharks are killed around the world, only for their fins. That’s about 1800 dead sharks in the time it takes to read this article.
• NZ is one of the top 20 exporters of shark fins to Hong Kong, alongside Spain, Taiwan, and Singapore
• NZ shark fin exports are worth ~ $4.5million annually, NZ fishing exports are worth ~$1.56 billion
• Over 73 of the 112 shark species in NZ waters are commercially fished
• Only 9% (11 species) are managed under the Quota Management System
• The remaining species in NZ waters are completely unprotected.
Shark finning is a wasteful and inhumane practice that involves catching a shark, killing it, removing the fins and dumping the body overboard. Finning means only 2% of the shark is actually used. It is unnecessarily contributing to declining shark numbers, some of which are already dangerously low.
But in New Zealand it is a different story. Fishers can remove fins if the sharks are dead. The bodies are often dumped overboard to avoid the costs of onboard storage. This means only 2% of the shark is used, and the remaining 98% is wasted.
Worse, there’s recent photographic and video evidence proving live finning takes place on our waters. This barbaric practice leaves sharks to die a slow and painful death.
Click here for video footage of live finning in New Zealand waters.
Click here to read the 2009 Nelson Mail newspaper article that reported 29 sharks had their fins removed, and some were returned to the water alive.
What’s so special about shark fins?
Finned carpet sharks that were found in the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Ministry of Fisheries
The shark fin industry is driven by demand from East Asian countries where fins are the main ingredient of the highly-prized delicacy shark fin soup.
Fins exported from New Zealand can fetch price tags up to $1200/kg. New Zealand ranks among the top 20 countries for selling shark fins to Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Singapore and our annual exports for shark fins are worth about $4.5million.
Anecdotal reports suggest shark fins are increasingly targeted by commercial fishers because of increasing demand and prices.
Forest & Bird is not against shark fin soup. We fully support restaurants and exporters that use shark fins from sharks caught in a sustainable manner. That means fins sourced from fishers that use the entire shark, and do not throw unwanted shark meat overboard.
We simply don’t know enough
Sharks are in decline
Some shark species are vulnerable to overfishing. For example, over 73,000 tonnes of porbeagle shark were landed in New Zealand waters during the 2010/11 season – the highest catch in eight years. And yet the stock status of this slow-breeding species is unknown. In 2011, the Ministry of Fisheries (now Ministry for Primary Industries) reported: “the ability of the stock to replace sharks removed by fishing is very limited”. Even more concerning, 80% of porbeagle sharks were caught solely for fins and the bodies dumped at sea. Other shark species face extinction because they are killed as by-catch of other fisheries. Pale ghost sharks for example are almost exclusively caught on accident by fishers.
Of the 73 shark species commercially-fished on New Zealand waters, the Ministry has good records on the population figures of only three shark species.
It’s impossible to determine the fishing industry’s impact on shark populations without accurate data. And it means maximum catch limits for sharks, as set under the Quota Management System, are nothing more than wild guesses. In reality, we don’t know if the catch limits are protecting sharks from overfishing.
Recent data on shark by-catch as well as anecdotal reports from recreational and game fishers indicate that shark numbers are in decline (see side box for more information).
What’s is Forest & Bird doing?
Forest & Bird is campaigning hard to stop shark finning in New Zealand. We’ve joined forces with independent groups like Greenpeace, WWF, Shark Fin Free Aotearoa, Dive New Zealand and several others to form the New Zealand Shark Alliance.
The alliance is fighting to bring New Zealand shark legislation in line with other countries. It’s advocating sharks are caught by commercial fishers are killed and brought to shore with “fins naturally attached”. This internationally-recommended approach will discourage the wasteful practice of killing sharks only for their fins, reinforce laws against live finning and encourage long-term sustainable fishing.
Click here to visit the New Zealand Shark Alliance Facebook page.
What is our Government doing about shark finning?
Up until now, very little. In 2008 the Ministry of Fisheries released its five-year National Plan of Action for sharks (NPOA), and despite intensive lobbying from groups like Forest & Bird and marine scientists to ban shark finning, the Ministry continued to allow sharks to be caught exclusively for their fins and the bodies dumped overboard. Live finning remained illegal.
The Government is currently reviewing the NPOA, so now is the time to tell those in charge that legislation needs to change. In October, the NPOA review will be released so the public can comment and ask for changes by way of submission. The final NPOA is scheduled to be released in December.
It is our international responsibility to have a National Plan of Action for sharks “to ensure the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use”.
What do we want?
The NPOA review this year is our best chance to help make shark finning illegal in New Zealand. We’ll also point out the failures of the current system, such as meaningless quotas, collapsing shark numbers and inadequate observer coverage of shark fisheries.
Our submission guide on the NPOA will recommend:
• Any sharks taken must be landed with the whole carcass – fins naturally attached
• Processing of sharks (fins, meat, liver and meat) must be carried out on land*
• Quotas must be set according to quantitative stock assessments
• To implement effective management for shark species listed as threatened by the IUCN and provide specific management strategies on a species-by-species basis
- Applaud Costa Rica for Improved Ban on Shark Finning (forcechange.com)
- Costa Rica Bans Shark Finning (huffingtonpost.com)
- Richmond MP Alice Wong eats shark fin soup for Asian media’s eyes only (metronews.ca)
- Costa Rica passes ban on taking of shark fins (reuters.com)
- ENVIRONMENT: Richmond MP defends restaurants’ right to serve sharkfin soup (vancouverdesi.com)
- Costa Rica officially bans shark finning (greenerideal.com)
- Conservative MP Alice Wong tucks into bowl of shark fin soup to oppose local bans (theprovince.com)
- Tory Alice Wong shows her opposition to proposed ban by chowing down on shark fin soup (vancouversun.com)
- Can Shark Finning Ever Be Certified Sustainable? (treehugger.com)