Shark Finning

This campaign asks supporters to donate to their campaign to stop shark finning.
Australian Government must ban both the import and export of shark fins


Shark Finning. Most Australians would be horrified to know that we participate in the global shark fin trade – but we do. It’s unsustainable, cruel and it has got to stop. With sharks globally threatened and the shark fin trade identified as a key cause, we need to address the problem of shark finning. We must ban the import and export of shark fin products, to reduce global demand for shark fins, reduce incentives to target endangered sharks in Australian fisheries, and end Australia’s contribution to the decline in shark species. Shark fishing across the globe is the single biggest threat to shark populations. With up to an incredible 73 million sharks killed every year, predominantly for their fins, it’s no wonder that the IUCN has assessed that one-third of all open ocean shark species are threatened with extinction. Huge and increasing demand for shark fins gives sharks the dubious privilege of being amongst the most valuable animals in the sea; it has also made them the most vulnerable. Sharks are considered ‘keystone species’, which means that as top predators, they are extremely important in maintaining the balance in marine ecosystems. Removing too many sharks from an eco-system can lead to a monumental shift in the equilibrium between predators and prey all the way through the food chain.

Although there are well over 1,000 different species of sharks swimming our blue planet, this diverse group is generally characterised by biology that makes them especially vulnerable to fishing pressure; they are often long-lived, slow growing and late to reach maturity and reproductive age. This means they take a long time to recover from over-exploitation. But the value of sharks doesn’t just lie in their body parts. Not only are sharks of priceless value to the oceans, they are also a huge revenue earner in the tourism industry. In Palau, it was estimated that a single shark brings in US$179,000 every year in tourism dollars, or a total of US$1.9 million in the life span of a single shark. The value of 100 dead sharks in both fins and flesh amounts to 0.00006% of the lifetime value of the same sharks1.

With no demonstrably sustainable shark fisheries currently in operation, AMCS does not support targeted shark fishing, in Australia or the world. At this point in time, with no consensus on what form a sustainable shark fishery would take, AMCS continues to work to protect endangered species of sharks from the negative impacts of fishing. Biologically more like whales than fish, sharks belong in the sea. Finned hammerhead sharks in a bucketThe international trade in shark fins is widely believed to be responsible for causing the decline in so many shark populations around the world. Australia is complicit in driving our global shark populations closer to extinction by our role in the international shark fin trade. Shark fin soup is traditionally served at formal occasions in Chinese culture to symbolise both the wealth of the host and respect for their guests. With an increasingly affluent Chinese middle class, the demand for shark fin soup is driving a 5% annual increase in the shark fin trade, putting additional pressure on a range of shark species, many of which are already considered endangered.

Shark fins in Australia 
With a single shark fin up for sale in Sydney or Melbourne’s Chinatown with a $1,000 price tag, it’s not hard to see the incentive for shark fishing. Prices can reach up to $700 per kg of dried, skinless fin, whereas shark meat is generally much lower value – selling for as little as $0.80 per kg. Live shark finning, the practice of cutting the fins from live sharks and dumping the body, is illegal in all jurisdictions in Australia, thanks largely to AMCS campaigning. However, the legislation differs between various states, the Territory and the Commonwealth; in Commonwealth, NSW and Victorian waters, all sharks caught must be brought back to port (‘landed’) with their fins attached to their bodies. In Tasmanian, Western Australian, Northern Territory and Queensland waters however, fishers can cut the fins off at sea, as long as they bring back a ratio of shark fins to shark meat. This patchwork of shark processing across the country is a mess, and makes monitoring whether fishers are complying with shark finning legislation a nightmare, a fact recently recognised in an international forum.  The recent Meeting of the Signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks, an agreement to which Australia is a signatory, resulted in a finalised shark Conservation Plan. This plan specifically suggested sharks should be landed with fins naturally attached. In November 2012, the EU also voted in support of a ‘fins attached’ policy.

Shark fin trade
Although trade data is considered one of the key assessment methods for ensuring illegal take of sharks doesn’t happen, quantifying Australia’s role in the shark fin trade has been problematic as a result of poor record keeping by the Australian Government. The confusing way in which Australia’s trade data is collected and processed means there is no single, publicly available source for accessing and placing a figure on the amount of shark fin that is both exported from and imported into Australia.

Shark fin export information
AMCS attempted to get the export information from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, but were informed that as there was no one central data source where all the export data was collected, DAFF were unwilling to share their information. Following a Freedom Of Information request, AMCS received a data set that outlined the absolute minimum tonnage of shark fin traded from Australia in the 2011-2012 financial year. The data shows that in 12 months, Australia exported a minimum of 178 tonnes of shark fin to Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore. This is roughly the amount of shark fin derived from 13,300 tonnes of whole shark. These figures are a minimum estimate as a result of the way in which shark fin export data is recorded. AMCS was informed that some export data is not entered into an electronic database, but is instead recorded in hard copy. No single data source exists that accounts for both electronic and hard copy export data. But it’s not just the sheer volume of shark fin Australia is exporting that is the issue. Every year, Australia reports its total annual landing of sharks to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO). Over the past five years of reporting, Australia has lodged an average of 8,390 tonnes of shark and ray per year, which is quite a different figure than is being suggested from the trade data alone. Potentially, this leaves around 5,000 tonnes of shark catch unaccounted for. There have been instances of illegal shark finning in Australia; for example, in August 2012, a mature female grey nurse shark was found still alive but with its fins sliced off on a beach near Evan’s Head NSW , and a decaying finless shark was found within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park . But without good trade data that can confidently tell us what we’re exporting, it’s impossible to put a figure on the possible contribution of illegal activity to our trade in shark fin. AMCS hasn’t been able to access a time series of shark fin export data in order to understand if Australia’s exports have been decreasing or increasing over time. The export trade data is archived on a daily basis – every day, trade data from individual shark export trade codes (which include things like squalene, shark cartilage power and shark fillets) is rolled into the sum total of all shark product exported.

Shark fin import information
While the shark fin export data we have access to is poor,information collected by the Australian Government on imports has been simply non-existent. Before 2012, there was no specific trade code for ‘shark fin’, which means all imported shark fin came in under two general trade codes that also included shark meat, amongst other shark products. Specific trade codes to monitor the amount of shark fin coming into the country were put in place at the beginning of 2012, so at the beginning of 2013, we should be able to understand what’s coming in and from where. AMCS are concerned that Australia is importing shark fin from countries that still allow live shark finning, such as India and Indonesia. We do know, however, that Australia does import shark fin into the country. From accessing data collected in Hong Kong, Australia imported 54 tonnes of shark fin between 1998 and 2011.

The future of the shark fin trade
With such poor trade data available, it’s hard to have confidence in the Australian Government’s ability to monitor whether we’re supporting trade from countries that allow the cruel and barbaric practice of live shark finning. It’s hard to conclusively state that we’re not importing or exporting fins from species supposedly protected by international conventions, such as CITES. It’s hard to assess if illegal shark finning or shark fishing is taking place in our own backyard. What’s needed is better trade data collection, both for imported and exported shark products. Given the precarious state of many shark species, the species of sharks that are being traded should be monitored. It’s unlikely these improvements will take place any time soon. In order to protect Australia’s diverse range of shark species, AMCS is urging the Australian Government to ban both the import and export of shark fin. A ban on the trade will serve to ensure sharks aren’t fished for the value of their fins, and reduce the incentives for shark fishing across the country. (references 1 Vianna GMS, Meekan MG, Pannell D, Marsh S, Meeuwig J (2010) Wanted Dead or Alive? The relative value of reef sharks as a fishery and an ecotourism asset in Palau. Australian Institute of Marine Science and University of Western Australia, Perth). 

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Campaign Details

Group Leading this Campaign: Australian Marine Conservation Society

Main Issue of the Campaign:

Campaign Ran From: 2013 to 2018

Campaign Outcome:

Year Outcome Assessed:

Geographic Range of Activity:


Shark Finning