Shark finning is simply the practice of removing a shark’s fins from the body for separate sale. The term is sometimes used to describe the practice when a shark’s fins are removed to sell and the rest of the body is discarded at sea.
Shark fin is used in predominantly Chinese cooking, e.g. shark fin soup. It is considered a delicacy and some people believe it has medicinal value. It is a high priced commodity, especially as shark finning at-sea has now been banned by a lot of countries.
The body of the shark is either returned to the water without its fins or the fins and the body are sold separately. On rare occasions the shark is sometimes alive when returned to the water but will soon die.
In Australian fisheries it is illegal to possess shark fins on board a commercial fishing vessel without having the whole shark on the vessel. This helps ensure that shark finning is not occurring at sea. Not allowing finning at-sea allows for more effective monitoring of the catch and promotes optimum utilisation as the fins can then be used along with the rest of the shark. Once landed the whole shark must be offloaded to a licensed fish receiver. From that point on the shark can be processed with various body parts going to different markets, including the fins.
Shark finning at-sea is illegal in Commonwealth fisheries. This means that the removal of shark fins at sea and the dumping of the carcass are prohibited. To prevent this occurring, all fisheries are subject to Fisheries Management Regulation 9ZO that makes it an offence for the caudal lobe, caudal fin, pectoral fin and dorsal fin to be removed from the shark at sea before it is in the possession of a fish receiver.
Between 2008-09 and 2011-12 reports of and evidence for illegal shark finning became less common in Commonwealth fisheries.
AFMA takes this issue very seriously and has done extensive analysis of catch landings and export data, investigated allegations of shark finning and has conducted strategic intelligence assessments on market demand and potential black market implications. Evidence available to AFMA suggests that illegal shark finning at-sea is a low risk however, compliance officers remain on the lookout for evidence of illegal shark finning when they are out in the field.
Rules and regulations
In parts of Australia where the Commonwealth has jurisdiction over fishing, AFMA has imposed a range of measures to prevent shark finning at-sea. These include limits on the number of sharks which can be carried on board vessels and restrictions on processing sharks at sea and the form in which fish receivers are permitted to receive shark.
No wire traces
In addition, AFMA has banned the use of wire traces in Australia’s pelagic longline fisheries. Elsewhere in the world, wire is used to connect the hook to the main fishing line. The increased strength of wire prevents sharks from biting through the line and escaping. Scientific research has shown banning wire traces allow many sharks to escape longlines by biting through the monofilament that connects the hook to the mainline.
AFMA also undertakes regular targeted inspections of Commonwealth fishing vessels and fish receiver premises. These inspections check compliance levels against all Commonwealth fisheries management arrangements, including the landing and receipt of sharks.
Vessel Monitoring Systems
AFMA also ensures strong compliance measures are in place on fishing vessels, including the use of electronic vessel monitoring systems for all boats so their movements can be tracked. This allows fisheries officers to better target their inspections because they know when fishing vessels are coming into port.
AFMA has also installed electronic monitoring systems on some vessels operating in fisheries that target or otherwise catch significant numbers of shark. These systems monitor vessel location through GPS and video record 100% of fishing activities. AFMA then analyses the footage for data verification and compliance purposes.
Australia has taken a leading role at Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (agreements between countries to manage shared fish stocks) to implement stronger shark management measures. Australia has regularly called for the international banning of the use of wire traces and the shark finning at sea.
AFMA manages one fishery that actively targets shark. This fishery predominantly targets gummy shark. Gummy shark is not caught for its fins but to sell as ‘flake’ which is often used in fish and chips. The fishery is subject to high levels of monitoring and assessment to ensure catches are sustainable and within scientifically-based limits. Catch limits are actively enforced by AFMA Compliance Officers and through catch documentation requirements. School shark, which can be caught with gummy shark, was historically subject to high levels of fishing pressure and the stocks are now being closely managed to ensure recovery.
Some sharks are taken as incidental catch in the Eastern and Western Tuna and Billfish Fisheries. The main species caught are shortfin mako sharks and blue sharks.
Yes. Where sharks have been harvested and landed in accordance with the regulations, fins removed from these sharks can be sold legally.
If you suspect illegal fishing, including shark finning at-sea or shark catches beyond sustainable limits, please report it via our hotline CRIMFISH on 1800 274 634 or via our CRIMFISH online form.