To stem the tide of illegal shark finning by Indian fishermen, the Animal Welfare Board has issued an advisory to coastal States for landing sharks with fins intact

Recognising the problem of cruel shark finning, the Animal Welfare Board of India has issued an advisory to all coastal States to help end this practice by having fishermen land sharks with their fins naturally attached.

Shark finning is driven by the shark fin trade, in which fishermen catch sharks, cut off their fins and throw the still-living animals back into the water, where they die slow and painful deaths.

In the advisory, Uma Rani, secretary for AWBI, explains that since shark finning involves mutilation of an animal, it is a violation and punishable offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

India is the second-largest shark-catching nation in the world, according to a study by the European Commission. Indian fishermen target and catch sharks primarily for their meat; however, they do export fins from sharks they catch. Additionally, fishermen on foreign vessels in or just outside of Indian waters also engage in this cruel practice.

The fins from tens of millions of sharks are used to supply worldwide demand for shark fins and fin products each year. Unlike other fish species, sharks produce few pups, and thus, many species are endangered and/or threatened due to the fin trade.

The AWBI, a statutory body under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), is concerned with raising awareness about the inhumane treatment of animals as well as protecting animals from unnecessary pain and suffering.

In light of the advisory, Humane Society International/India, in collaboration with the Association of Deep Sea Going Artisanal Fishermen, renewed an appeal to the MoEF to consider adopting a shark fins naturally attached policy.

C. Samyukta, HSI India campaign manager for wildlife, said: “We applaud Animal Welfare Board of India for taking this step towards creating greater accountability for the care and protection of shark populations amongst all Indian coastal States’ fisheries departments. We hope that the Central Government shall also follow in the footsteps of AWBI and bring into force a shark fins naturally attached policy.”

Shark finning at sea enables fishing vessels to increase profitability and increase the number of sharks harvested, as they only have to store and transport the fins, by far the most profitable part of the shark.

Shark finning has increased over the past decade largely due to the increasing demand for shark fins, for shark fin soup and traditional cures, particularly in China and its territories, and as a result of improved fishing technology and market economics. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group says that shark finning is widespread, and that “the rapidly expanding and largely unregulated shark fin trade represents one of the most serious threats to shark populations worldwide”.

Estimates of the global value of the shark fin trade range from a minimum of $540 million to $1.2 billion, a cursory scanning of shark fin trade data suggests. Shark fins are among the most expensive seafood products worldwide, commonly retailing at $400 per kg. In the United States, where finning is prohibited, a bowl of shark-fin soup can sell for $70 to $150. For trophy species like the whale shark and basking shark, a single fin can fetch $10,000 to $20,000.

Studies estimate that 26 to 73 million sharks are harvested annually for their fins. The annual median for the period from 1996 to 2000 was said to be 38 million, which is nearly four times the number recorded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations but considerably lower than the estimates of many conservationists. It has been reported that the global shark catch in 2012 was 100 million.