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Chilean efforts to ban 'shark finning' praised by Pew

By Martin Leggett - 08 Apr 2011 10:8:0 GMT
Chilean efforts to ban 'shark finning' praised by Pew

The gruesome and wasteful practice of 'shark finning' - which sees sharks caught, de-finned and tossed back into the seas to die - will be rolled back in Pacific, if efforts by Chilean lawmakers are fruitful. A new bill is being introduced in the Senate there, which would see shark finning banned in Chilean waters - and it is drawing praise from a visiting Pew Environment Group delegation.

A team from the respected conservation group is in Chile this week to meet with the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, and to consult with the country's fisheries commission. Pew has long campaigned for an end to this most unsustainable of fishing practices. Recently US President Barrack Obama signed into law the Shark Conservation Act, which prevented the transport of shark fins without the shark carcass. The Chilean legislation would apply a similar ruling.

The pressure on shark numbers has increased massively over the last decade or two, as the Asian delicacy of shark fin soup has rocketed in popularity. Shark fin soup has been a prestigious delicacy across China, and much of south-east Asia, for hundreds if years. But with the recent swelling of the ranks of the Chinese middle class, as China powers ahead economically, the demand for this ultimate culinary status-symbol has boomed too.

That has had devastating consequences for endangered shark populations. It is estimated that up to 73 million sharks are killed every year for their fins, in a billion-dollar a year industry. This has helped to push shark populations sharply lower, with some species falling by 70-90% over the last three decades.

The problem with shark finning is that, as only the fins are stored on board the harvesting ships, vast numbers of sharks can be de-finned in a short time - which encourages over-exploitation. And there are many reported instances of sharks being dumped overboard still alive - and so being left to drown, or to die slowly of starvation, as they can no longer properly function.

Chile, with the seventh largest fishing fleet in the world, is an important nation to have on-board for halting this horrific practice. Some of the richest marine waters in the world are to be found in the up-swelling waters of the Humboldt Current. And sharks role as 'top predator' means that any measure to reduce pressure on them will benefit the whole marine ecosystem.

Maximiliano Bello, senior adviser to Pew said ''These animals grow slowly, mature late and produce few young over their lifetimes, leaving them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing and finning. With an estimated 53 shark species found in Chilean waters, we need to protect these important animals before it is too late.''