Gareth Hughes

Shark finning: one of these isn’t like the other

by Gareth Hughes

One of these things is not like the other ones, one of these things is not quite the same. Any ideas?

I’ll give you a clue: all bar one have taken on board a vast array of international advice, and adopted a policy that protects the apex predator in our largest and most complex ecosystem.

Got it yet?

Shark finning, or the practise of killing a shark, taking its fins and tail and dumping the carcass at sea, is still legal in New Zealand. Every other country on that list has legislated against shark finning (or in the case of Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver started a massive campaign against fisheries exploitation), and that’s just within the last six months. So why do we, in little old NZ, who is the first-fifteen of global shark catchers, not want to be on that list, and why aren’t we?

Internationally, 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins. 20 million blue sharks are killed annually solely for their fins. In many cases, the shark is still alive while being finned. This is a well-documented issue that I’ve blogged on before.

So what’s new? Well, within the last 24 hours, the California legislature has voted“overwhelmingly to approved a ban on the sale and distribution of shark fins”, because they recognised the harm that unchecked attrition of the top predator does to the entire ocean. Californian legislators acknowledged that they had to balance the cultural value of shark fin soup with the detrimental effects of finning, but even the cultural argument may not be so strong in years to come, with indications that even China, the world’s biggest shark fin consumer, may be moving to legislate against shark finning.

The world acknowledges that you can’t just endlessly kill (in a wasteful, cruel manner) a long-lived, slow-breeding predator, essential for regulating the oceans of the entire planet.

So what’s keeping us? We don’t actually seem to have any real reason. Even the current Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith, whilst in opposition, called the practice “abhorrent”. This is why I, along with the United Nations General Assembly, Forest and Bird, the IUCN and others are calling for NZ to immediately implement a ‘fins naturally attached’ (requiring vessels to keep the whole shark, rather than discarding carcasses at sea) policy on shark catch, which would significantly hamper the trade. The Greens are also calling for an immediate review of our National Plan of Action (Sharks), and adherence to the fundamental principle of that document: “to ensure the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use”.

Our status quo, offering legal protection to only two of the 112 species of shark found in our waters, is not sustainable.

We can join the swelling ranks of the environmentally and socially responsible, or we can look increasingly like the shark conservation pariahs we are.

One of these things is not like the other one, and I know which one I’d rather be.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Gareth Hughes on Tue, May 24th, 2011   

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