US to end shark ‘finning’

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The oceans just got a little safer for sharks. Fishermen must bring their shark catches to shore with fins still attached, the US fisheries service has decided.

The new rule, put forward last week, aims to prevent fishermen from slicing fins off vulnerable species and discarding the rest at sea.

“Finning”, as the practice is known, is illegal in the US and elsewhere, but the ban is difficult to enforce. Right now, fishermen may land piles of fins separate from shark bodies, so long as the fins weigh less than 5% of the total catch.

Shark meat fetches much lower prices than do fins, which are the main ingredient in the prized Asian soup. The discrepancy encourages cheating as it is hard to identify the species of a shark based solely on its fins.

“They keep the fins of every shark they catch and then fill the hold with bodies of smaller sharks,” says marine ecologist Stuart Sandin of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. “In essence, they are double dipping.”

The new rule, which will come into effect in time for the shark-fishing season in June, is part of a plan to help badly overfished populations of sharks recover. It will only protect sharks until 2012, when fisheries managers will reevaluate the stocks.

A measure to permanently require that sharks be landed intact was introduced to the US Congress last week. The European Union is also considering similar measures to enforce the ban on finning.

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Source: NewScientist