Demand fueling murky world of shark poaching and illegal fishing

In the ’90s this magazine ran a campaign to have shark finning banned in New Zealand. At that time commercial finning of live sharks and dumping their living bodies over the side of the vessel was a common practice. Internationally there was mounting pressure to have the practice banned.

In New Zealand finning of live sharks was banned in 2009. The finning of dead sharks was completely banned by 2016. Fishers are still able to cut fins off dead sharks as long as they bring the complete shark’s trunk ashore.

There are 113 species of shark in our waters. The Commercial Fishing Regulations specify various species and what is required re how the shark and its fins are brought ashore. Example; blue sharks can be brought ashore with their fins artificially attached. For all other non-quota management system (QMS) species, when approved, and under certain conditions, any fins landed can be separate from the shark. The theory is that fishermen may not wish to have their freezers full of shark bodies leaving little room for more profitable catches such as tuna or snapper.

Shark bycatch can be dumped at sea. Are any fins removed before the body is dumped overboard? Your guess is as good as mine. There is a very healthy open market for shark fin products in New Zealand. I would suspect.

New Zealand is among the world’s top 20 exporters of shark fins worth over $4.5 million annually.

With our current fisheries regulations many think that New Zealand has addressed the problem of sharks being slaughtered just for their fins. It would be very interesting to know the quantity of fins sold through the black market.

Plus, if sharks are being targeted by a fisher then why not pick up extra profit by selling their fins? There is a huge international market for fins which sell for over US$200 over 00.45kg.

You realize how huge the demand is when recently 272 tonnes of frozen marine animals were discovered on board a large Chinese fishing vessel in the Galapagos Marine Reserve – a UNESCO World Heritage site. The vessel contained thousands, if not tens of thousands, of sharks. The fishermen have been jailed and fined US$7.5 million.

The demand in Asia for foods like shark fin soup and various shark fin potions is fuelling the murky world of maritime poaching and illegal fishing.

Until this seemingly insatiable demand is reduced and the profit to be made drops, dramatically, I cannot see the illegal shark fisheries stopping any time soon.

Globally an estimated 100 million plus sharks are killed annually.

As we go to print New Zealanders are about to vote in their general elections on 23rd September. It has become quite a lolly scramble as the major parties tempt voters with an array of perceived benefits.

The good news is that the environment is very high on the lolly list. No matter which party becomes Government the environment will benefit.

It is reassuring to see the continuing public concern about how New Zealand maintains, rebuilds and protects both the onshore and marine environments.

Also high on the minds of politicians’ is maintaining New Zealand’s internationally-perceived ‘Clean Green’ image.

Tourism is New Zealand’s largest export industry in terms of foreign exchange earnings, generating $2.8 billion in goods and services tax (GST) revenue. Let’s see some of those dollars spent wisely!

To check out the recreational fishing regulations in your area visit: www.mpi.govt.nz/ travel-and-recreation/fishing/ fishing-rules/

Dave Moran, Editor at Large