Legal Fins Keep the Channels Open for Illegal Fins




Much like elephant ivory, rhino horn and other endangered species products, the only way to truly curb the trade of fins is by not allowing the possession, sale or trade of that product. Any legal trade of animal products will lead to loopholes that allow for the illegal trade to continue. States that ban the act of ‘finning’ but continue to allow the trade of fins, often claim that  they have a handle on what comes and goes. The reality is that keeping the flow of the product going not only keeps the market booming, it also causes illegal finning to continue, whether you officially endorse it or not. 

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 willing 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. The situation is too urgent to attempt elaborate fisheries management schemes that may or may not be doable. Furthermore, when a State allows the import and transshipment of fins, they will automatically allow fins from countries that have not made finning illegal.


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.

Stefanie Brendl