Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oceana and the Chilean Shark Fin Bill

The Fisheries Committee of the Chilean Senate voted on Friday in favor of placing a bill aimed at protecting sharks by banning finning (cutting the shark’s fins and then throwing the carcass back into the ocean) on the legislative agenda.

The bill was favorably voted by the Senators who attended the session: Antonio Horvath, Jaime Orpis and Fulvio Rossi, and now it must be voted in the Senate chamber.

“Chile has become a large shark fin exporter, which is severely threatening their conservation. The unanimous vote of the Committee is an encouraging signal and we hope that our country can soon pass a law banning such a brutal practice,” stated Alex Muñoz, Executive Director with Oceana in Chile.

The bill, promoted by Oceana, was introduced to National Congress last January, sponsored by Senators Antonio Horvath, José Antonio Gómez, Jaime Orpis, Hosain Sabag and Carlos Cantero, and is aimed at putting an end to increasing finning practices in Chile. Of the 30 species of sharks caught in Chilean fisheries, at least 15 are subject to finning, with the blue shark (Prionace glauca) and the mako shark (Isurus oxyrhinchus) as the most affected species.

Shark finning, among other activities, is responsible for a 90% global decrease in these animal populations. Fins are exported to Asian countries, mainly China, where they are used for culinary purposes.

A Freedom of Information Act request filed by Oceana to the Chilean National Customs Service revealed that between 2006 and 2009, 71 tons of dry shark fins were exported and corresponded to eight different species.

In 2006, the Chilean Government pledged to take conservation measures for sharks through a National Action Plan for Shark Conservation which, among other goals, considers the integral use of caught and retained sharks. To do so, one of its goals is to eliminate finning, encouraging the landing of fins together with the body.

Sharks are top predators in marine ecosystems and as such, they have a critical role in maintaining trophic balances and the promotion of biodiversity. In fact, their disappearance can bring instability to the food chain and have large and negative ecological impacts on the structures and functions of marine communities and ecosystems. Unfortunately, they are highly vulnerable to overfishing and require many decades to recover. Compared with other fish, sharks grow slowly, become sexually mature relatively late, have a long life-span, have long pregnancies and generally have low reproductive rates.

If the bill is approved, among others, shark finning will be banned and sharks will have to be landed with all their fins naturally and completely attached to their bodies. Also, the presence of loose fins on-board, or the transportation or transfer of cut shark fins between vessels, will be totally prohibited.