Study calls for EU ban on removing shark fins at sea

Shark fisheries experts say in a report released today that to strengthen the European Union’s ban on shark finning, EU fishermen should no longer be permitted to remove shark fins on board ships, and that loopholes in EU regulations make it possible for fishermen to fin an estimated two out of every three sharks without detection or punishment.

Chark fins

 The expert study from the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) and the European Elasmobranch Association (EEA), ‘Sharks fins in Europe: Implications for reforming the EU finning ban’, compares shark catching, processing, trade and regulations of the EU with those of the rest of the world and makes recommendations for improvement.

“The international debate on whether to prohibit finning (the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea) and how best to implement such a rule has been raging for more than a decade,” says Sarah Fowler, report author and former SSG co-chair and EEA president. “Our report set out to examine this history, with particular emphasis on the influence of EU fisheries, trade and management policies, and to develop clear recommendations on how to improve the current situation.”

In demonstrating that prohibiting at-sea removal is the best option for implementing the finning ban, experts noted that this method also facilitates the collection of species-specific catch data, which are vital for the assessment and management of shark populations.

“The waste and unsustainable mortality associated with finning pose threats to shark populations, fisheries, food security and the sustainability of marine ecosystems,” says Sonja Fordham, Deputy Chair of the IUCN SSG and co-author of the report summary. “The most reliable way to enforce a shark-finning prohibition is to require that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies. This method is being mandated for more and more fisheries, particularly in Central and North America, creating momentum for global change.”

The study was undertaken to contribute to the current debate on weaknesses in the EU finning regulation. Last month, the European Commission launched a public consultation on options for amending the regulation, including a ban on at-sea fin removal. The Shark Alliance welcomed this consultation.

“For too long, the EU has left the door open to shark finning,” says Uta Bellion, director of the Pew Environment Group’s European Marine Programme and European coordinator of the Shark Alliance. “This report reinforces our call on the EU Commission to propose legislation in 2011 with the one truly reliable option for preventing finning—a complete prohibition of the removal of shark fins at sea.”

Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Portugal rank among the top 20 countries for shark catch. The combined landings of these four Member States put the EU second in the world, behind only Indonesia, in volume of shark catches.

Notes to editors

Although the EU finning regulation prohibits the removal of shark fins at sea, a derogation allows EU Member States to provide fishermen with special permits to ‘process’ sharks and thereby remove fins on board vessels. Germany and the United Kingdom recently stopped issuing these permits. Only Spain and Portugal grant them, and they do so for most of their shark fishermen.

In 2003, in an attempt to prevent finning under these permits, EU fishery managers adopted a maximum fin weight to carcass weight ratio. Such ratios are used around the world to ensure that shark fins and bodies are landed in proper proportions. The EU ratio of 5% whole weight, however, is higher and more lenient than those of other countries. It is also currently legal for EU boats to land shark fins and carcasses in separate ports. This second loophole further complicates enforcement and undermines an already weak policy. The most reliable way to enforce a shark finning prohibition is to require that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies

Most sharks grow slowly, mature late and produce a small number of young, making them vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover once depleted. The removal of top predators threatens the stability of marine ecosystems, and overfishing (including through finning) is the greatest single cause of increased extinction risk to sharks.

A copy of the consultation document can be downloaded here:

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Nicki Chadwick, IUCN Media Relations Officer, t +41 22 999 0229, m +41 79 528 3486,

Work area: 
North America
Go to top