UK could become first country in Europe to ban shark fin trade after Brexit

A petition calling on Parliament to close a loophole which is keeping shark fin soup on restaurant menus has fetched nearly 100,000 signatures.

The dish is seen as a delicacy in traditional Chinese cuisine, with some restaurants in central London selling it for as much as £190 a pot.

As the fins are so valuable, fishermen make far more money by simply cutting them off and tossing the shark back into the water. They then will either suffocate to death or be eaten alive by other creatures as they are rendered completely powerless.

The practice of finning is banned in the EU, but that doesn’t stop fins being chopped off in waters around the world, processed in the Far East and then being brought to Britain – helping an industry that kills at least 75 million sharks a year.

The British Government has previously said its hands are tied, as it couldn’t unilaterally ban the imports while tied to Brussels – but once the Brexit transition period passes at the end of this year, Parliament will be able to vote on it.

Marine conservation group Shark Guardian are calling for just that, and once their petition hits 100,000 it will be considered for debate in Parliament.

The organisation’s co-director Brendon Sing told Metro.co.uk: ‘Shark fin is actually completely tasteless, that’s what I find so crazy about this.


‘They have to marinade the shark fin with chicken or pork for hours until it has the desired flavour.’

Mr Sing says he knows of at least four restaurants in central London that openly advertise shark fin soup, which people enjoy for its texture.

But the true number that serve the dish is likely to be much higher, as many restaurants don’t put it on their menus for fear of backlash, meaning customers have to specifically ask for it.

Mr Sing, from South Africa, is half-Chinese and his family owned a chain of Chinese restaurants. He says people will be looking for shark fin soup wherever there is a significant number of tourists from the Far East.

He added: ‘It makes sense that it would be available in certain high-end restaurants in London to cater for Asian tourists coming to London looking for something special.’


Mr Sing says there are two main types of sharks – one of which has to keep on swimming in order to breathe.

After being finned, those species can suffocate for around 20 minutes before they die, while the other variety could be eaten alive over a matter of days, either by other sharks or smaller creatures.

Explaining why fishermen often chuck their bodies back into the sea, Mr Sing said: ‘The value of the body is for lower in cost than the value of the fin. The fin is the rhino horn of the shark.’

For this reason it makes more sense for fleets to save all of their freezer space for the fins than the much cheaper bodies.

Mr Sing says Chinese fishing fleets have expanded well beyond the far east, cutting off fins off the coast of Africa and South America as well.

While Shark Guardian’s petition says 75 million sharks are killed this way, less conservative estimates say it could be closer to 100 million.

Humane Society International says fishing is responsible for a 90% reduction of some populations, including those of hammerhead sharks.

But the fins of endangered species regularly pass through the UK’s borders without the bat of an eyelid.


As a shark researcher, Mr Sing said he wouldn’t be able to tell the type of shark just be looking at the fin alone.

He added ‘There’s no way that a border agent will be able to open the bag and tell “that one’s an endangered species, that one’s not”.’

‘Anybody can carry 20kg of shark fins into the UK and you don’t have to declare it.

‘When it comes to tax, if there’s a quantity of product worth over £390 per person I would then have to declare it for tax purposes. But if they’re not actually checking the shark fin how do they know that?’

Mr Sing said 20kg would consist of roughly 500 sharks’ fins and would be worth £4,000 – suggesting people in the trade are dodging a significant amount of tax.

Humane Society International senior specialist Iris Ho said shark finning is as much of an ecological problem as it is one of animal welfare.


She told Metro.co.uk: ‘They’re the apex predators so they’re instrumental in maintaining the balance of our ocean ecosystems – a healthy shark population equals a healthy ocean.’

Ms Ho said the finning industry also poses a threat to local economies who rely on eco-tourism, as people from all over the world pay top dollar to scuba dive with sharks.

She said an increasing number of airlines, hotels and restaurants are enforcing bans on shark fins, which is a step in the right direction.

But she says following in the footsteps of Canada, the first G20 country to completely ban the import of shark fins, would be the most effective way to tackle the problem.

She added: ‘I think it’s very encouraging to see this petition going strong, and the UK Government in recent years has really been upfront with major animal conservation issues.

‘It’s is looking to ban the importation and production of hunting trophies – The UK Government is on the right side of history for animals and I really hope that they will be looking into this measure.’

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: ‘The UK Government does not oppose the capture and use of sharks providing catches are shown to be sustainable.

‘However, not to use the whole of any sustainably caught animal would be considered wasteful. We continue to push for stronger controls in order to reduce the risk of illegal finning.

‘The greatest conservation benefit for sharks will come through controls directed at the activities of the fishing vessels operating on the high seas rather than restrictions on the trade itself.

‘We recognise that the demand for shark fins can be a significant driving force behind the capture of sharks and can fuel unsustainable practices.’

The department said it continues to ‘press for stronger international controls’ with various fishing and wildlife protection bodies and says trade controls are in place for certain species under the international CITES agreement.

It added: ‘Having left the EU, the UK can champion conservation measures much more forcefully.

‘Our departure from the EU allows us to consider options to tighten the personal import allowance and improve the traceability of the shark in fin trade in the UK.’

Click here to sign Shark Guardian’s petition.

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