The European Union has regulated shark finning since 2003. That sounds all well and good, until you realize regulating an activity is a far cry from banning it outright.

The EU forbids fisherman from finning sharks, unless they have a special permit, in which case they can go ahead and fin sharks, as long as they follow certain rules, which they often don’t. Europe’s regulations regarding the shark fin trade are, unlike the sharks themselves, toothless.

According to a BBC report, EU fishermen can receive permits allowing them to fin sharks, as long as “the weight of fins kept from the catch must not exceed 5 percent of the live weight of the shark catch.” BBC reporters noted “the fins of some shark species did not typically represent 5 percent of the live weight of a shark, creating a loophole that meant finning could take place unnoticed.”

Shark finning is a cruel, unnecessary act. A good description of the practice can be found in the text of a landmark Hawaii bill banning the possession, sale, and distribution of shark fins in the state: “The practice of shark finning, where a shark is caught, the fin is cut off, and the shark is returned to the water, causes tens of millions of sharks to die a slow death each year. Some sharks starve to death, others are slowly eaten by other fish, and some drown because most sharks need to keep moving to force water through their gills for oxygen.”

How many sharks are needlessly killed for their fins ever year? Shark Savers puts the number at over 100 million, and estimates that 97 to 99 percent of regional populations of shark species are already gone. At least 50 species of shark are at high risk for extinction, and scores more are threatened. No wonder celebrities ranging from Jackie Chan, Yao Ming, Amanda Beard, Tara Kirk, and Peter Benchley are rallying to protect these majestic, ancient sea-dwellers.

Yet as long as the practice of shark finning continues, sharks will remain in danger. The EU’s current laws are simply not strong enough. The European Commission is currently asking for public opinion on whether the option to issue special permits should be revoked.

To send a note asking Europe to stop issuing finning permits, visit the EU Commission’s website. Or, you can sign our petition asking the Commission to immediately close the loophole that allows fishermen to fin sharks.

Photo Credit: Cinz