Taiwan clamps down on shark finning
Taiwan has tightened its regulations against shark finning – a wasteful and cruel practice in which sharks have their fins removed and are then thrown back alive, to drown or bleed to death. Finning allows vessels to take many more sharks than they would otherwise have space for, decimating populations. Having documented systemic illegal shark finning across Taiwan’s distant water fishing fleet, we welcome this move.
While it is legal to fish for sharks, since 2013 Taiwanese law has forbidden shark finning, a practice where fishers remove the lucrative fins and throw the less valuable body back into the sea. However, until now vessels that fish seasonally for sharks in the Pacific have been allowed to remove fins as long as bodies were retained on vessels. Taiwan observed a rule that bodies and fins must be landed at the same time, and that the weight of fins should not be more than 5% of the weight of the total catch.
This method, while intended to stop vessels from disposing of vast numbers of shark bodies, is costly and difficult to enforce, as each shipment of fins and bodies must be weighed at port inspections. Some vessel crews wrongly interpreted the regulation to mean that they are allowed to fin 5% of the sharks they catch.
The Taiwan Fisheries Agency has now ended this loophole and amended its regulations so that fins must either be naturally attached to the body, or the body and fins put in the same bag, tied together or marked with matching tags. This will ensure that the whole shark is landed in every case.
Illegal shark finning is still a common practice at sea, EJF’s investigations of the Taiwanese fishing fleet have found. Migrant fishers who worked on Taiwanese vessels reported that when the ship’s freezer was full, or when they caught protected species of shark, they would be ordered to cut off the fins and illegally discard the bodies. This practice means vessels were able to catch and kill many more sharks than they would otherwise be able to store, as well as taking vulnerable species.
Sharks, as top predators, have a critical impact on the health of marine ecosystems. Yet around a third of open-ocean shark species are at risk of extinction, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates. Even blue sharks – which are the world’s most abundant open-ocean shark – are listed as ‘near threatened.’ As well as falling victim to the fin trade, they are a major target species of fisheries.
Along with revealing the widespread nature of shark finning in the Taiwanese fleet, EJF’s investigations also found that the illegal finning practices are extremely common aboard vessels that fish seasonally for sharks in the Pacific – the group of vessels affected by these new measures. If implemented properly, the new regulations will reduce the finning practices in the fleet as well as lower the cost and increase the efficiency of port inspections.
In addition, the new regulations also need to be enforced through the introduction of mandatory electronic monitoring, including the use of cameras. EJF’s interviews have revealed the widespread use of illegal at-sea trans-shipments to remove shark fins from vessels before they are inspected. The use of cameras would enable authorities to detect and prevent this practice.
It is now vital that the Taiwanese government works to ensure that these measures are fully and transparently implemented.
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