'Brutal': Disturbing Aussie link to $590m black market tradition

·News and Video Producer
·4-min read

Australia must urgently reform laws around shark finning to stop the extinction of multiple species a new report warns.

As one of the world’s top 20 importers of shark fin, traceability measures must be improved to ensure that Australia is upholding its commitments to the survival of healthy oceans, researchers found.

Our imports include product from Thailand, which is alleged to be home to fishing vessels which still use the “brutal” practice of shark finning.

Australia is one of the worlds' biggest importers of shark fins. Source: Getty / Supplied
Australia is one of the worlds' biggest importers of shark fins. Source: Getty / Supplied

With international regulation found to be lacking, traceability must be improved within Australia to ensure shark fin is ethically sourced, the joint study released yesterday by Humane Society International, Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and Environmental Defender’s Office found.

While the report raised concerns about the finning practices of countries Australia imports from, it also found gaps in our state laws, finding some are inadequate when it comes to protecting endangered species and ensuring sharks are not “brutally” finned.

Australia is a minor exporter of sharks to mainland China and Hong Kong, and while shark finning is technically illegal in the nation's waters, policies to ensure the whole shark, and not just the fins are taken, are inconsistent, with Western Australia found to be particularly lacking in regulation.

Shark conservation by the numbers:

  • A minimum of 63 million sharks are killed every year.

  • Up to 36 per cent of sharks and rays are threatened with extinction globally.

  • Some species of sharks and rays have declined by 70% over the last 50 years.

  • 17 shark types are listed by CITES as endangered, mostly due to the fin trade.

Shark fin soup remains a popular delicacy in many Asian nations. Source: Getty
Shark fin soup remains a popular delicacy in many Asian nations. Source: Getty

Key facts about shark fin usage:

  • Shark fins are commonly used in East and Southeast Asian soups and these dishes are commonly associated with wealth and status.

  • The global shark fin trade is centred around Hong Kong, which hosts up to 50 per cent of all imports, with half of this re-exported.

  • Australia is responsible for about 1 per cent of product imported into China and Hong Kong.

  • The Chinese city of Guangzhou is increasingly seen as a shark fin hub, joining established markets in Indonesia and Taiwan.

  • In 2011, the global trade was estimated to be 1,7154 tonnes and valued at US $438.6 million (A$590 million).

  • Seizures of illegal shark fins are on the rise, with Hong Kong capturing its largest ever blackmarket shipment last year.

What is shark finning?

Finning involves cutting off a sharks valuable fin off, and then dropping it back into the ocean to slowly die.

Researchers argue we should only be using fins of animals where the whole animal is processed.

Why can’t sharks survive without their fins?

Sharks need to be constantly moving forward in order to survive, and lose the ability to move without their fins.

Suffocation, blood loss and predation from other species causes the shark to have a slow, painful death after it is finned.

Researchers warn endangered species of sharks have been illegally caught by blackmarket traders. Source: Supplied
Researchers warn endangered species of sharks have been illegally caught by blackmarket traders. Source: Supplied

Why Australia is in the spotlight

Researchers say Australian legislation falls behind laws regulated in the European Union, Canada and the United States and does not meet international standards.

Dr Leo Guida from AMCS said many Asian nations, where shark fin soup is popular, are also tightening restrictions around its sale.

Australia imports shark fin from a number of nations, including Thailand. Source: Management of Shark Fin Trade to and from Australia.
Australia imports shark fin from a number of nations, including Thailand. Source: Management of Shark Fin Trade to and from Australia.

With Australia importing an average of 441 tonnes a year, he said the nation must also carry its weight when it comes to enforcement of ethical standards.

“We do import quite a lot of shark fin,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“This is why it's important that Australia isn't complicit in supporting fisheries across the world that are unsustainable, and there are potentially driving a shark species to extinction.”

How traceability could be enforced

  • All fins would be physically tagged to ensure that whole sharks are caught and processed, not just their fins.

  • Logbooks would be required to ensure compliance and detail the species of sharks caught and butchered.

  • A worldwide online traceability system to monitor and regulate wildlife products, similar to which has been proposed by worldwide endangered species trade regulator CITES, would be implemented. This could implement blockchain technology to ensure data is not corrupted.

What you need to know about ocean protection

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