by Gareth Hughes
Sharks are amazing creatures and fearsome predators, but they don’t stand a chance against our industrial fishing fleets and growing demand for shark fin soup. Many New Zealanders would be shocked to discover that shark finning – the practice of killing a shark, cutting off its fins and discarding the carcass back to sea – is still legal in New Zealand, despite being banned elsewhere.
The Government has recently announced a proposed ban on shark finning in New Zealand waters saying “The practise of finning sharks is inconsistent with New Zealand’s reputation as one of the best managed and conserved fisheries in the world” I welcome the proposed ban and think it is long overdue. 98 other countries have already prohibited this wasteful practise and this year as New Zealand undertakes its five-yearly review of shark policies it is high-time to implement a ban.
Every year, between 73 and 100 million sharks are killed for their fins alone driven by growing demand for shark fin soup. Many Chinese hold shark-fin soup in high regard, and serve it at banquets and weddings as a sign of the host’s affluence and respect for their guests. In 2011 I surveyed Chinese restaurants in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin and found it was served in around a third of restaurants, with it costing $180 a bowl at one Auckland restaurant.
Shark finning is like killing an elephant for its tusks or a rhino for its horn and it is grossly wasteful. While the finning of live sharks is already banned the practise of killing a shark, harvesting the fins and dumping the carcass overboard is rife in some New Zealand fisheries. In the tuna fishery for example, blue sharks that once were released live are now killed in the thousands and finned. It’s incredibly wasteful and a blight on New Zealand’s fisheries brand.
At present in New Zealand, we regulate for the protection of just three shark species; the great white, the basking and the oceanic whitetip shark, yet 28 of the 79 shark species caught commercially in New Zealand are listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN and the United Nations General Assembly have recommended adopting a fins-naturally-attached approach to shark protection, which would require vessels to keep the whole shark, rather than discarding carcasses at sea. I’ve been lobbying the Government to implement a fins-naturally-attached policy which encourages fishers to utilise the whole shark carcass and in the case of the blue shark would likely see them once again released live into the ocean. This approach is realistic, simple to implement, and cheap and easy to enforce.
Three years ago I assisted in forming the New Zealand Shark Alliance and it is heartening that all parties now including National have come on board with the alliance’s call to ban shark finning. It is heartening we have built a rare consensus amongst political parties for a ban.
Shark finning is irresponsible and wasteful and New Zealand should immediately align our shark policies with those in the majority of the world. We’ve moved from hunters to guardians of elephants and rhinos; now let’s do the same with sharks. The Government has invited submissions from the public and I am urging people to make a submission before Friday, 8 December. A final decision is expected before the end of the year and I think a ban on shark finning would be a very welcome Christmas present.