17, Dec, 2005

MFish officials block attempt to ban shark finning

Category: ECO Inc

“The Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO) today condemned New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries officials for blocking a US attempt to ban shark finning in the Pacific.[1]

“In a meeting in Pohnpei, Micronesia, New Zealand fisheries officials failed to support an attempt by the USA and other countries to ban the gruesome and ecologically threatening practice of shark finning,” says Cath Wallace of ECO.

“New Zealand and Japanese opposition, at the meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, caused a resolution on shark finning to be watered down and become almost meaningless.”

Sharks need more than just platitudes from New Zealand officials,” said Cath Wallace. “There are hundreds of thousands of sharks killed in the area and more than 50,000 killed in New Zealand waters annually.[2]

“International non-governmental organisations at the meeting were shocked by the New Zealand behaviour” says Cath Wallace.

“It appears the officials have not been frank with their Ministers over New Zealand’s position of supporting shark finning at sea and dumping of carcass. Shark fins are sold in Asia and elsewhere.

The fishing is done by various countries including New Zealand vessels and vessels on contract to New Zealand fishing companies.[1]

“Australia, the United States, Canada, the European Union, and international fisheries agreements around the world ban shark finning. New Zealand is out of step with international practice.

“Shark finning is barbaric, hugely wasteful and is devastating shark populations in the Pacific. Sharks are a vital part of the ecosystem as well as being important in themselves. It is also very probable that a lot of the time the sharks are in fact still alive when finned and dumped even though it is against Government policy.[4]

The New Zealand Fisheries’ Ministry position that finning is ok if they are killed first is clearly the result of pressure from the fishing industry. Kiwis will be shocked to hear that the New Zealand government has allowed officials to put fishing industry profits from this barbaric practice ahead of species survival, ethical practice and environmental health of the sea.”

“ECO calls on New Zealand to oppose all shark finning except where the whole animal is landed. This is the international compromise position that was agreed at the 2004 World Conservation Union international meeting of governments and non-governmental organizations, at which various fishing industries including the New Zealand fishing industry were represented.

For further information contact Cath Wallace at 021-891-994 or 04-389-1696.

Background material on sharks and shark finning.

1. Shark fin are used in shark fin soup which is an Asian delicacy.

2. Shark numbers finned and dumped in New Zealand waters have been estimated at around 30-50,000 annually (from Francis et al 1998, and Ayers et al 2004). This figure is likely to be an under-estimate due to the “gross under-reporting of blue sharks”.

3. A NIWA report - Francis et al (1998) comments on the general pattern of tuna longline bycatch of sharks:
“Blue shark catches declined from 60,000-75,000 per year from 1988-89 to 1990-91, to about 25,000-45,000 from 1991-92 onwards, despite increased CPUE (Fig 8). Most blue sharks are discarded after finning. Catches have been under-reported on TLCERs since 1990-91.

Porbeagle and mako shark catches have been relatively stable. Reporting rates were high for mako sharks, the larger individuals of which are retained, but low for porbeagle shark which is usually discarded after finning.”

In the tuna fishery blue sharks are the most common catch and make up around 32 percent of species caught. Porbeagle sharks and mako sharks each make up 6-8 percent of the catch. Sharks overall make up over 50 percent of the catch in tuna fisheries.

Francis M P, Griggs L H, Baird S J, Murray T E and Dean H (1998) Bycatch of non-target fish species in New Zealand tuna longline fisheries. Final Research Report for Ministry of Fisheries Research Project ENV9702. NIWA Sept 1998.

4 A 2004 NIWA scientists’ report for the Ministry of Fisheries says:
“Most blue sharks, mako shark, school shark, deepwater dogfish….were alive when recovered. About half porbeagle sharks…were alive when recovered….”

“Most blue, mako, porbeagle and shool sharks… were processed in some way. … Blue and porbeagle sharks that were processed were generally finned only, with the rest of the shark discarded. School sharks were mainly processed for the flesh. Mako sharks were mainly retained for their flesh by the Japanese chartered vessels, whereas domestic owner-operated vessels mainly finned those processed, and discarded about 50 percent of their observed catch of mako sharks.”

“Shark bycatch can be either processed for both its flesh and fins or just finned with the rest of the carcass being discarded. School shark were almost all processed fully. Blue sharks showed the opposite extreme, with over 99 percent of all retained fish finned. Porbeagle sharks were predominantly finned (by both fleets), although 20 percent are processed. There was a notable difference between the fleets for mako sharks. The foreign and charter fleet processed 96 percent of makos in 2000-01 and 84 percent in 2001-02. The domestic fleet, however, preferred to fin makos. Only 46 percent (in 2000-01) and 31 percent (in 2001-02) of makos were processed by this fleet.”
[Pages 12 and 13 in Ayers D, Francis M P, Griggs L H, and Baird S J 2004 Fish bycatch in New Zealand tuna longline fisheries 2000-01 and 2001-02. NZFAR 2004/16. 47p.]

5. Blue shark, mako and porbeagle were added to the quota management system in 2004. While these species can be released, if alive and likely to survive, without affecting quota (sixth schedule of the 1996 Fisheries Act) this does not prevent fishers from fining the fish, dumping the dying shark over the side, and reporting the catch.

6. New Zealand has been dragging the chain in producing a National Plan of Action of Sharks in accordance with the FAO International Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) 2001. The Ministry of Fisheries states every year that they will do it but never deliver.

Allowing finning at sea is in conflict with the guiding principles, aims and objectives of the FAO IPOA-Sharks. This require a precautionary approach to management, and to minimise waste and discards from shark catches and promote their full use through measures including bans on finning.

7. Recreational fishing groups support a ban on shark finning at sea.

The Big Game Fishing Council has asked “the Ministry of Fisheries to take heed of our international obligations and developments in other nations, and ban shark finning. Sharks should be landed only with their fins intact. This will provide an incentive for fishers to fully utilize their shark bycatch, or release it alive.” (Submission to Ministry of Fisheries, February 2004).

In February 2005 the Hawke's Bay Sports Fishing Club called for a national ban on shark finning. This call was supported by the New Zealand's Big Game Fishing Council and the Recreational Fishing Council.

8. Fish may not feel pain as we do but they certainly get stressed:
“Despite the apparent lack of pain as we know it in fishes, they most definitely suffer from stress. Rose states that they "display robust nonconscious, neuroendocrine and physiological stress response to noxious stimuli".

In short, if you need to touch a fish, you should remember that the fish may not experience pain the way you do, but it does suffer from stress. Professional ichthyologists follow stringent guidelines to reduce stress when handling fishes.” M. McGrouther, February 2005, Australian Museum 2005.

9. The IUCN Resolution can be found at:

It includes, World Conservation Congress of IUCN:
2. URGES states with fisheries that capture sharks, whether in directed fishery activities or as accidental by-catch in other fisheries, or which facilitate the landing of shark products by international flag vessels, to require that all sharks be landed with the fins attached to their bodies and to guarantee full utilization of shark catches;