30 ‘finned’ sharks washed up on New Zealand beach

Date: 1/2/2008

During December a New Zealand Department of Conservation ranger came across a gruesome find in the Marlborough Sounds: the bloodied carcasses of 30 sand sharks whose fins had been cut off by commercial fishermen and the bodies thrown back into the sea – some while still alive. Commercial fishermen said they believed the incident was isolated, but anecdotal evidence suggests that ‘finning’ of live sharks is not uncommon in New Zealand waters. It is difficult to know for sure – what we do know is that finning of dead sharks is fairly common practice in New Zealand waters, where it is permitted by law. While finning of dead sharks avoids the slow, painful deaths of sharks that are finned alive, the practice still threatens the sustainability of shark populations. There are 112 species of shark in New Zealand and about 70 of these are caught by fishers, for meat and other products as well as their fins. The most commonly caught species include lemonfish, dogfish, nurse shark, dark and pale ghost shark, mako, and blue sharks. The great white (or pointer) sharks have recently been granted protection under New Zealand law, and cannot be legally caught. International estimates of shark numbers killed varies greatly – from 10 million to 100 million. Shark populations worldwide are in decline, with many considered endangered. It is estimated that 60-70% of shark meat caught globally is thrown away and only the fin taken and this practice is a major contributor to worldwide shark population decline. Many countries, including Australia, the US, the European Union countries and South Africa, have effectively banned shark finning – these countries require the shark’s meat, and not just the fins, to be landed. In New Zealand it is illegal under the Animal Welfare Act to cut off a shark’s fins while it is still alive – but there is no prohibition on removing fins from dead sharks and dumping the rest of the carcass at sea. There is an urgent need for more research into shark populations in New Zealand waters. Without vital information on shark numbers, population trends and breeding patterns, we simply do not know that the number of sharks being caught is sustainable. Until we have this information the commercial fishing quota for shark species should be zero.

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