Sharks are very important to the oceans as they control the fish population and maintain the food balance. However, many species of these predators are under threat due to human interventions, specifically shark finning.
Shark finning is a cruel practice that involves the discarding of sharks back into the ocean once their fins have been harvested. These sharks, once finned, are often still alive and quickly sink to the bottom of the ocean where they die a slow and painful death. The global market for shark fins is driven by the demand for shark fin soup. An Asian delicacy of sorts, it is associated with wealth and status and is often served at Chinese weddings and banquets. Shark fin soup loyalists claim that the fins have taste-enhancing, medicinal and curative powers- all of which have been proved wrong by scientific research.
Further, finning has been recognized the world over as a leading contributor to the decimation of shark populations. Sharks are caught in all places with coastlines and are used for their meat as well as exported but finning is the real problem. India is the second largest shark catching nation in the world and among the biggest shark fin exporters as well.
Facts about Shark Finning
- Of the nearly 80% total reported shark catch, Indonesia, India, Spain and Taiwan account for more than 35% of the total shark catch.
- India is reported to be developing or to have sought assistance to develop a National Plan Of Action recommended by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and United Nations.
- India reports shark exports to FAO in four categories: (i) shark fillets, frozen, (ii) shark fins, frozen, (iii) sharks nei, fresh or chilled and (iv) sharks nei, frozen. From 2000 to 2007, exports averaged 305 tonnes per year, of which frozen shark fins made up more than 70%. Exports have declined in recent years, averaging only 177 tonnes from 2005 to 2007, of which frozen shark fins make up about 115 tonnes. Almost all shark fins are exported, because domestic demand is limited.
- Fins are sold in large quantities from the Andaman Islands, where a commercial shark fishery has been established. Species preferred for fin export are smooth hammerhead, milk, spadenose and blacktip reef shark.
- Most fins are exported to Hong Kong and Singapore. Markets for other shark products are limited, but recently new markets have emerged, that include the U.K and the United States, Malaysia, Germany and Taiwan (Verlecar et al. 2007). Import data from Taiwan indicates that India also supplies dried shark fin to the export market, and EU import data indicates that about 200 tonnes per year of predominantly frozen shark products is imported from India.
- Sharks account for about 60 to 70% of the elasmobranch catch. Common species include blacktip, spottail, whitecheek, blacktip reef, hardnose, tiger, spadenose, milk, and scalloped hammerhead. Ten species of sharks and rays (whale shark, narrow sawfish, Pondicherry shark, Ganges shark, speartooth shark, Ganges stingray, freshwater sawfish, green sawfish, whitespotted guitarfish and porcupine ray) have been added to Schedule 1 of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. This listing precludes the hunting of these species.
- A final ban on finning has been issued by the MoEF on 21 August 2013. However, this is at the Central Government Level and the policy still needs to be adopted by all Indian states (especially the Coastal States) before it comes into effect.
India is a signatory nation to international conventions such as The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species on Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the FAO which recommends a National Plan of Action for conservation and management of Sharks (NPOA Sharks). However, it is yet to undertake concrete measures to monitor the practices used to procure shark fins.
In India, shark fishermen traditionally harvest the whole body of the shark as meat, and for trade in pharmaceutical and leather industries. However, of late there have been reports of targeted shark fishing for fins by some Indian as well as foreign vessels that are illegally fishing in the Indian EEZ.
Threat to the existence of sharks means a threat to the delicate balance of marine ecosystems everywhere and the abundance, variety and survival of other marine species. It's time proper checks were put in place to ensure that this doesn't happen.