Britain’s involvement in the global shark fin trade is under stringent review by DEFRA following meetings with Bite-Back that highlighted the volume of shark fins exported from the UK along with the loophole in the law that permits anyone entering the country to carry 20kg of shark fins for personal consumption.
Typically the UK exports around 22 tonnes of shark fins every year, worth £180,000, to Spain for treatment and onward shipment to Hong Kong. While the sharks caught by UK fishing fleets must be landed whole, the fins will be removed from the carcass and processed separately.
Campaign director, Graham Buckingham, said: “It’s shocking to know that Britain ranks in the top 20 shark fishing nations in the world and it’s equally shocking to know that fins from sharks landed in the UK are entering the shark fin trade. Considering that the fins are the most valuable part of a shark, it’s easy to see how the lucrative shark fin trade directly incentivises the retention of sharks and contributes to the depletion of stocks.”
Each year around 73 million sharks are killed globally with many targeted purely for their profitable fins to be used as the title ingredient in shark fin soup.
Last month a report from Exeter University said that ‘the number of sharks found in the open oceans has plunged by 71% in over half a century, mainly due to over-fishing’ and that ‘three-quarters of the [pelagic] species studied are now threated with extinction.’
Graham said: “The rise in the value of fins has created a marine gold rush for sharks that could see some iconic species wiped out in our lifetime. Like any commodity, the rarer it becomes the more valuable it becomes. And it’s the same with shark fins; the only difference is that this commodity is wild.”
In 2015 Bite-Back exposed a loophole in EU legislation that permits anyone entering the UK to bring 20kg of dried shark fins as part of their personal import allowance. The discovery prompted the charity to launch its NO FIN TO DECLARE campaign calling on the EU to implement a ban across all 28 member states. While the campaign delivered over 154,000 signatures to Brussels, the European Parliament dismissed the request.
However, now that the UK has left the EU, Bite-Back is hopeful that Britain can introduce its own legislation and impose a ban on shark fins entering the country through this route.
Graham added: “Significantly no other item on the personal import allowance list compares to shark fins in terms of volume or value. Twenty kilos of fins is enough to make 705 bowls of shark fin soup and has a black-market value of around £3,600. A change in this archaic ruling would be a quick and easy win for shark conservation.”
A positive decision by the British government to introduce new, tougher, rules around the import and export of shark fins would represent the culmination of more than 15 year’s work by the charity to end the trade and consumption of shark fins in Britain. In that time it has worked to educate and inspire over 50 Chinese restaurants nationwide, including the UK’s only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant Hakkasan, to drop shark fin soup from menus. However, around half a dozen UK restaurants still serve shark fin soup.
Bite-Back hopes that any progress made by the UK to limit its involvement in the shark fin trade will encourage other countries to follow and allow shark species the chance to recover.