Eight in ten Australians would support a complete ban on the commercial trade in shark fins, yet half are unaware that our country legally participates in the shark fin trade, new research commissioned by peak marine conservation groups has found.
The Essential Research poll also revealed that most Australians believe laws to eliminate the cruel practice of live finning should be made consistent across the states and territories, and 74% would avoid purchasing seafood from Australian waters where live finning was possible.
The barbaric practice of live shark finning involves slicing fins from living sharks, and dumping their bodies overboard. The shark sinks to the ocean floor and dies a painful death from blood loss, predation or suffocation.
While the practice is technically banned in Australia, a legal loophole still exists in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory which means the practice of live finning at sea may still be happening because fishers are not required to bring the entire shark back to land in one piece.
Live shark finning practices can easily be masked as long as fishers can show inspectors they have the right ratio of fins to flesh on their boat when they return to port.
Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist and Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) spokesperson said the polling results showed that half of Australia is blissfully unaware that live-shark finning is very much a possibility in some Australian waters, and just as unaware of Australia’s continued contribution to the lucrative fin trade.
“Many shark species, including endangered scalloped hammerheads, could be saved from this cruel practice if fishers were required by law to bring sharks back to port in one piece, with their fins attached,” Dr Guida said.
“The polling shows Australians would wholeheartedly support the Queensland, WA and NT governments if they closed the live shark finning loophole.
“We know the majority of Australian fishers do the right thing by sharks, but without inspectors and cameras closely monitoring fishing boats, we cannot be certain that lucrative live shark finning doesn’t occur, even in our world heritage Great Barrier Reef. Earlier this year, two fishers from Cairns were convicted of illegally possessing shark fins on their boat. We’re worried this might be the thin edge of the wedge.”
Dr Guida said once sharks are separated from their fins, it is very difficult to tell which kinds of sharks are being caught. The species data is unreliable, so it is hard to know whether fishing practices are sustainable and whether endangered species are part of the catch.
Lawrence Chlebeck, Marine campaigner at Humane Society International said: “A ‘fins naturally attached‘ law would close the live shark finning loophole and help officials keep track of the catch. The law would also ensure Queensland, WA and the NT align with scientific recommendations to keep fins attached to the body to better regulate the international trade in endangered and threatened wildlife.
“Queensland, WA and the NT are lagging behind global standards in terms of stamping out live shark finning. The United States, the European Union and India all have rules in place to make sure sharks are brought back in one piece with their fins attached. It’s recognised best practice and the very least we can do for these species important for our oceans’ health.”
Dr Guida added: “The NT implemented fins naturally attached to its shark fishery in late 2018, which was a solid step forwards. However, we would like to see this made into law and applied throughout all NT fisheries that harvest sharks.”
The conservation groups have begun a petition asking Ministers in Queensland, WA and the NT to introduce legislation that ensures sharks are brought back to port in one piece. In as little as one week, it has over 10,000 signatures.