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Government fails to stop shark finning

_23 October 2008 - Wellington

Forest & Bird media release for immediate use

Government fails to stop shark finning

The Government’s plan of action on sharks does little to protect them because it continues to allow shark finning, Forest & Bird says.

Today Minister of Fisheries Jim Anderton released the Government’s five-year national plan of action for sharks, which continues to allow shark finning – cutting off their highly priced fins and discarding of the bodies at sea – in New Zealand waters.

Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says that while the plan was welcomed and long overdue, its failure to take the crucial step of banning finning to protect vulnerable shark populations was hugely disappointing.

Finning of sharks while they are still alive is illegal under animal welfare laws but there is video evidence this still happens. Finning of dead sharks is still legal in New Zealand waters.

Cutting off the fins of a shark and dumping the rest of the body at sea – when they are dead or alive – is a wasteful practice contributing to the decline of shark populations worldwide. Increasing demand for the fins for shark fin soup is driving up the price of shark fins.

Kirstie Knowles says the minister is hiding behind the live finning issue. Allowing shark fins to be landed alone makes enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act near impossible – unless an observer is on all vessels –and continues to allow highly vulnerable sharks to be killed.

She says most New Zealanders oppose shark finning. Most submissions on the plan of action – apart from submissions by commercial fishers – did not support shark finning. A Colmar-Brunton poll found that 83 per cent of New Zealanders support a ban on finning
More than 3000 people in less than two months have signed Forest & Bird’s pledge against shark finning.

A total of 112 species of shark are found in New Zealand waters, 70 of which are caught in our fisheries. Of these, 28 are listed on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of species threatened with extinction. One threatened species – the great white shark – is protected in New Zealand. The new plan intends to protect only one other – the basking shark – which can fetch more than $US50,000 for a single large fin.

Kirstie Knowles says there is so little information about shark populations – with good information on only three of the 70 species caught in our fisheries – that it is hard to know if current catch levels are sustainable.

Our longline tuna fishery catches twice as many blue sharks as “by-catch” as it does tuna. Blue sharks are recognised internationally as a threatened species by the IUCN and are estimated to have declined by 40 per cent in the Tasman Sea over the last decade.

“We know that sharks are long-lived, slow-breeding fish that are highly vulnerable to over-fishing. If we allow finning to continue, we are adding to the serious decline in shark populations caused by this wasteful and abhorrent practice”

Forest & Bird welcomes the plan’s proposed protection of basking sharks, a research and monitoring programme and a new field identification guide.


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