55,000 Blue Sharks Killed In 1998 For Wasteful Fin Trade

June 16, 1999

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today criticized the failure of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to control shark fin amputations in the Pacific. Hawaii-based fishing vessels commonly catch blue sharks accidentally while fishing for tuna and swordfish. Crew members amputate the fins of about 95% of these sharks and throw the mutilated carcasses back into the water.

NMFS on Monday released the executive summary of a report on shark finning, which fails to adequately address blue shark deaths. The Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council will consider the report and related management actions at their June 17 meeting at the Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu.

While some claim that blue sharks are more prolific breeders than other sharks, there are no quantitative studies of the impacts of this indiscriminate and wasteful killing on the sustainability of the blue shark population. “Allowing fishermen to continue killing tens of thousands of sharks a year through finning is irresponsible. NMFS and the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council should take action immediately to reduce the killing,” said Dr. Rod Fujita, an EDF marine ecologist.

“NMFS does not allow finning in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean. In addition, the United Nations recently adopted an international plan of action to protect sharks which emphasizes caution until scientists better understand shark ecology,” said Dr. Stephanie Fried, an EDF policy analyst. “Vessel owners use money from the sales of shark fins to subsidize low crew wages. Crews should be able to earn adequate wages without relying on the wasteful practice of finning.”

The executive summary of the NMFS report indicates that crew members of fishing vessels sell the fins upon returning to shore and keep the profits. Shark fin profits amounted to about $1 million in 1998, during which time about 55,000 sharks were killed. Because the shark fins are sold on a cash-only basis, Hawaii does not derive any tax revenue from this trade.

The Environmental Defense Fund, a leading national, NY-based nonprofit organization, represents 300,000 members. EDF links science, economics, and law to create innovative, equitable, and economically viable solutions to today’s environmental problems.