Government Should Ban Shark Fin Amputations, Says EDF

October 21, 1999

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today criticized the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac) for failing to call for an immediate end to shark finning. Hawaii-based fishing vessels commonly catch blue sharks 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. The fins are used to make a soup considered a delicacy in some Asian countries.

At its annual meeting in Honolulu yesterday, the council voted to limit the number of sharks killed each year to 50,000. This number is equal to the current average catch over the last three years. “The council has, in effect, taken no precautionary measures to mitigate the killing of blue sharks in the Pacific,” said Dr. Rod Fujita, an EDF marine ecologist. “While some claim that blue sharks are more prolific breeders than other sharks, little is known of the impact of this wasteful killing on the sustainability of the blue shark population.”

“It’s irresponsible to allow tens of thousands of sharks to be killed each year without knowing much at all about their ability to sustain this level of fishing, or how it will affect the Western Pacific marine ecosystem,” said Stephanie Fried, an EDF policy analyst.

“If Wespac won’t step in to stop this disgraceful practice, then the federal government will be forced to take action,” said Fujita. “The National Marine Fisheries Council does not allow finning in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean. It should ban this practice in the Pacific as well.”

A National Marine Fisheries Service report indicates that crew members of fishing vessels sell the fins upon returning to shore. Shark fin profits amounted to about $1 million in 1998. Because the shark fins are sold on a cash-only basis, Hawaii does not derive any tax revenue from this trade. In effect, the sharks are subsidizing captains and vessel owners, who let the crew keep the profits from the fins in lieu of bonuses or higher wages.

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.