Legal & Sustainably Sourced Fins?

 A bag full of shark fins.

A bag full of shark fins.



Sustainably sourced shark fins?

The theory that providing  "sustainably sourced" fins would be better than letting the illegal trade have 100% of the market may sound positive at first glance, but it is misguided at best.  Are we willingly to supply fins from millions of sharks every year to out-compete the illegal market? Because any less would barely be a blip on the global market.  Tracking which fins would actually be sustainably "harvested" or obtained is unrealistic for many reasons. Monitoring and reporting would be nearly impossible. Certification processes would be biased by whomever establishes the standards, which also means it could be different in every country. Such a process also takes years to implement. Maybe if they would have thought of that 50 years ago, we might have had a chance to have rational management or fins production. It is too late to muck around with fisheries management schemes that may or may not be doable.


Legal fins keep channels open for illegal fins.

It is all too easy to mix illegal fins into a shipment of legal fins. Fins can change hands multiple times; they are moved from one country to another, imported and exported, then re-imported once processed. They are loaded and reloaded from fishing vessels out at sea to larger transportation vessels, from ships to docks, either finned or still attached to a shark. They get moved from bags to container, from shipyards to transportation companies, to processing locations, and back again. Some shipments are labeled as shark fins, others are mixed in with other random seafood or bycatch. This is the reason why none of the export and import numbers add up and why authorities don't have a handle on what might be legal or illegal. There is no confusion when fin trade is not allowed across the board, no matter how they were obtained or where they came from.



There are discrepancies in the estimates of the number of shark fins that are actually entering and leaving the United States. 

  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), other countries reported exporting 1,012 metric tons of shark fins to the United States in 2007. However, that same year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) only reported 28.8 metric tons of shark fin imports.

  • In 2011, NOAA reported 38 metric tons of shark fin exports from the United States, yet according to the FAO, other countries reported importing 295 metric tons of shark fins from the United States.

It is clear that we can't tell the difference between domestic and imported fins. Only a full trade ban can ensure that we are not participating in the global trade of fins.


The argument of "wasting a resource"?

Some will argue that we should not be wasting part of the shark when it is already dead. This ignores the fact that most sharks are dead because of the fin in the first place. Not the other way around. We have had to take this route with many other species (elephants, rhinos, narwhals, and great whale species). All of these have bans on “trade” in their parts, but can still be hunted (albeit limited) in certain regions.

Let’s be real, we have proven again and again that we are incapable of keeping greed at bay. We do not use resources holistically by any stretch of the imagination, unless there are some clear lines drawn by the law. Furthermore, if a fishery is not economically viable without selling the fins of sharks, then maybe it simply isn’t viable?  

Utilizing the whole animal does not make the practice more sustainable. 


What about Shark Bycatch?

Bycatch is defined as "unintentional" catch that ends up on a line or in nets while the target species (tuna, swordfish, etc.) is pursued. Why would commercial vessels avoid "accidental" catch of sharks when the fins are a massive cash bonus? And despite of what the industry claims, they do know how to reduce bycatch of sharks, which has been shown when bycatch rates mysteriously dropped in areas where fin sales weren't allowed.


Taking part in the sale of fins, no matter how they were obtained, means you are a willing participant in a trade that is devastating shark populations on a global scale. Help us by signing this declaration:

Stefanie Brendl