Scuba Divers Strengthened Support for EU Shark Finning Ban

European diver activists convince key members of the European Parliament to upgrade legislation for a total ban on shark finning onboard European vessels. Words by Joanne Marston.

AWARE sent a group as part of the Shark Alliance Delegation to convince MEPs to change the law.

European Shark Week, October 2010. Thanks partly to pressure by responsible divers on European MEPs, the European Parliament this week endorsed a Written Declaration on shark finning. The resolution calls on the European Commission to deliver a proposalprohibiting the removal of shark fins onboard vessels. European divers contacted their local Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to help raise support for the ban resolution.

"The ever-increasing interest in European Shark Week (ESW) brought unprecedented opportunities for divers and shark enthusiasts to demonstrate concern about sharks", said Suzanne Pleydell, Project AWARE Foundation Policy Director. The community response has proved key in showing the commitment of European citizens to the conservation of sharks.

“I would like to thank EU citizens for encouraging us to take action. This sends a powerful message to EU decision makers that these valuable yet vulnerable species must be protected,” commented Jean-Paul Besset, MEP, France, Greens/European Free Alliance.

Sharkfins on public sale in Chinatown in Bangkok.

A more humane method of finning has been developed by Costa Rican fishermen to overcome problems of storage; the main reason sharks are “finned”. The sharks’ fins are partially cut and laid flat along the carcass allowing fishermen to freeze sharks on-board without cutting the fins off.

This method is now used in most Central American countries, as well as some fisheries in Australia and the United States. Landing sharks with fins attached not only effectively halts the cruel practice of finning but also offers vastly improved information about the species caught, vital for robust population assessment and effective shark management.

Although the current EU finning regulation already prohibits the removal of shark fins at sea, EU Member States can provide fishermen with special permits to ‘process’ sharks – allowing them to legally cut off fins at sea. Germany and the United Kingdom recently stopped issuing these permits, and although only Spain and Portugal grant permits they do so for most of their shark fishermen.

Written Declarations do not have automatic legislative effect, but make passing full legislation much more likely. The Written Declaration (71/2010) on shark finning achieved a majority with 423 of the 736 MEPs adding their names.

"I very much share (AWARE’s) views on this and will be signing the Declaration during the Plenary Session in Strasbourg next week.  As a Vice-President of the Animal Welfare Intergroup I fully welcome the Commission's decision to review the loopholes in the legislation,” said Jacqueline Foster, MEP from the UK.

Sharkfins are often hacked off living fish, which are then left to drown in the ocean.

The declaration was launched in September by four MEPs: Jean-Paul Besset, Chris Davies, Sirpa Pietikäinen, and Daciana Octavia Sârbu, from the ALDE, EPP-DE, Greens-EFA and S&D groups. It will be forwarded to the European Commission, who last month launched a public consultation on options for amending the regulation, including a full ban on at-sea fin removal.

"Project AWARE and its community of divers can see, first hand, the consequences that come from neglecting and damaging the aquatic environment and its ecosystems, and in particular the impact of declining shark populations," comments Pleydell. ”Together AWARE divers and advocates can help give sharks a fighting chance.”

Find out more about shark finning and ongoing work to protect the species including the “Give Sharks a Fighting Chance” campaign at

Photos courtesy of Project AWARE