VARADERO, Cuba – In a rare vote, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) has adopted a proposal for a stronger shark finning ban by an overwhelming margin, despite objections from Japan. The European Union and the United States have proposed for several years that NAFO strengthen its ban on shark “finning” (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea) by prohibiting the removal of shark fins at sea.
This year, the proposal was for the first time co-sponsored by Norway and the host country of Cuba, and gained new, outspoken support from Canada and Iceland. A similar ban was adopted by the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission in 2014, but other regional fisheries bodies have yet to accept such change.
“We are elated that North Atlantic fishing countries have taken a strong stand against shark finning and are leading the way toward adoption of best practice rules to prevent it globally,” said Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International. “We are deeply grateful to Cuba, our host country, for introducing the finning ban measure at this year’s meeting, and bringing it over the finish line at last.”
NAFO banned finning in 2005, but allows fins to be removed at sea, as long as the fin-to-carcass weight ratio does not exceed 5%. Using ratios has proved difficult for enforcing finning bans, while “fins-attached” landing rules are widely recognized as best practice. The US and EU are expected to re-introduce a fins-attached proposal at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting in November.
This year’s NAFO meeting marks a dramatic policy change for Canada and Korea, who helped defeat the “fins-attached” measure in 2015. Overall, nine NAFO Parties voted “yes” on the proposal, Japan voted “no,” and Russia abstained.
“We are thrilled that Canada has — at long last – joined the chorus of countries supporting this cornerstone of responsible shark fisheries management,” said Katie Schleit of Ecology Action Centre. “We are grateful for their enthusiastic support and hopeful that this new, national policy means that Canada will now join 30 other countries cosponsoring stronger finning bans and other safeguards for sharks at ICCAT.”
Shark Advocates International is a project of The Ocean Foundation.