Forest & Bird’s call for a New Zealand ban on shark finning – cutting off the high-priced fins of sharks and dumping the rest of the body at sea – is gathering support among New Zealanders, who are disgusted by the practice.
Ministry of Fisheries chief executive Wayne McNee has criticised the campaign because live shark finning in New Zealand is already illegal. However, Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says: “Mr McNee ignores the fact that sharks are caught and finned in New Zealand waters – with their bodies dumped back at sea. It is this wasteful practice that Forest & Bird criticises. It’s like cutting a leg off a cow and throwing away the rest of the carcass.”
Dumping encourages the practice of live shark finning, which, though illegal, still occurs. The discovery of live sharks without fins in Abel Tasman National Park reported in November 2007 in the Nelson Mail is one example.
“New Zealand is out of touch with the rest of the world on shark finning,” Kirstie Knowles says. “Many shark populations are in decline and shark finning is a big contributor. Many countries have banned the practice, in line with Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) requirements to encourage full use of dead sharks and minimise waste and discards from shark catches.”
A total of 112 species of shark are found in New Zealand waters and 70 are caught. But there is so little information about the sharks that it is hard to know whether the Quota Management System (QMS) is creating a sustainable fishery. “We know that sharks are slow growing and live long lives so they are vulnerable to over-fishing,” Kirstie Knowles says. “Taking just the fins is not only a wasteful fishing practice but it makes it more difficult to assess whether current catch levels are sustainable.
“We only have good information on three shark species on the QMS – school shark, elephantfish and rig (or lemonfish). Taking just the fin means we gain little information about the shark it was taken from.”
Sharks make up a large proportion of the longline tuna fishery. Ministry of Fisheries data shows that between 2003 and 2006 the proportion of tuna caught by tuna fishers was as low as 13-18 per cent of total landed fish. But 22-34 per cent of their total take was blue shark.
Ministry figures also show that from 2002-2007 more than 80 per cent of blue sharks caught in New Zealand had just their fins landed, with their carcasses dumped at sea.