The term finning is the cruel practice of cutting off a shark's fins, often while the animal is still alive. The shark trunk is then thrown overboard as superfluous ballast. Shark fins only make up about 14% of the shark's total weight, but they bring considerably more money on the international market than shark meat. If in rare cases finning is prohibited, people have no scruples and poach.
Finning is a cruel but lucrative business. In Asia one kilo of shark fins is worth an average of USD 100.
Hong Kong and mainland China dominate the international shark fin market. A 50% share of all worldwide traded shark fins goes into this market and 80% of the fins landed in Hong Kong are then shipped to the Chinese mainland. In 2003 this amounted to 11,000 tons and the market is growing each year by 5%. 3,500 tons are delivered directly to the Chinese mainland.
The almost uncontrolled finning trade is a problem. TRAFFIC warns that fins from species protected by the CITES Convention (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) - including whale sharks, basking sharks and white sharks - flow uncontrolled into the market.
Source: Business Report, September 2004
According to official reports the year 1980 saw about 3,000 tons of shark fins traded worldwide. In 2004 it was 22,000 tons, a quantity which in reality is certainly much higher.
Statistics from Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong - the world center of finning trade - point to an explosive expansion of this trade. According to customs officials in Hong Kong, 6,954 tons of fins were cleared for reexport in 1999, destined mainly for Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and China.
Up until 1987 China was only marginally involved in the finning trade and consumer market since the government rejected the concept of prosperity, and shark fin soup was thus considered an inappropriate status symbol. But the economic upswing in Peking and Shanghai created a basis for prosperity and thus also opened a market for shark fins aimed at the new middle class. China then began to fish sharks themselves. Catch quantities are unknown, but the number of heavy-capacity ships (500 BRT) suitable for this type of fishing increased from one ship in the year 1975 to 26 ships in the year 1992. By 1996 Shanghai alone already counted 64 ships. Chinese fishing ships have been sighted mainly in the North Pacific, the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
Taiwan ranks five in the worldwide shark fin trade. It maintains the largest international fishing fleet which fishes primarily in international waters, away from their own territorial waters.
Only a handful of countries have introduced finning restrictions: Canada (1994), Brazil (1998), the U.S. (2000), Spain (2002) and Costa Rica (2005). Certain restrictions are also valid in South Africa, England, Mauretania, Mexico, Malta, Namibia, Oman, the Philippines and Israel.
According to the latest estimates Singapore exported shark fins valued at USD 40.6 million in 2001. Restaurants in this country pay up to USD 4,000.-- per kilogram of fins.
December 15, 2000: Finning is prohibited in U.S. territorial waters
Following two years of debating, the American Congress passed a bill on December 7, 2000, which prohibits finning – cutting off a shark's fins – in U.S. territorial waters. The House of Representatives had already passed the draft bill in November. The bill must still be signed by the President before becoming law.
Source: Carrie Collins, Ocean Wildlife Campaign