NZ 13 tonnes of shark fins exported overseas each year


New Zealand is exporting 13 tonnes of shark fins each year despite the practice being banned in the country’s waters since 2014.

New figures obtained by the Herald from Seafood NZ show that nine tonnes of shark fins were sent to Singapore last year, destined to be used in shark fin soup.

A further four and a half tonnes were exported to the Pacific Islands.

DNA samples taken from shark fins found in markets, including Hong Kong, Vancouver, San Francisco and northern Brazil, could be traced back to New Zealand waters.

That is according to a 2020 study published in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters.

Fins are taken from mako and blue sharks that are normally found well offshore and caught as bycatch in New Zealand waters.

In 2014 it was made illegal to remove fins from sharks caught in New Zealand waters and discard the bodies.

However, they can be legally landed, finned and sold on to foreign markets. Most of the shark bycatch are dead when brought to the surface and their fins must still be attached to their bodies when brought ashore.

This is thought to prevent the targeting of sharks as it reduces storage space for other targeted species on board fishing vessels.

Green MP and former Department of Conservation minister Eugenie Sage said these rules were New Zealand’s “dirty little secret”.

“We have banned finning live sharks where their bodies are just tossed back into the sea, but we’re still allowing for too many sharks to be caught as bycatch”, she said, adding that there needs to be a huge overhaul of the Quota Management System (QMS).

“We’re actually flying blind.

“As an export product [shark fins], it legitimises the barbaric killing of sharks, and we need to see all shark species better protected.”

The mako, universally known by its Maori name meaning “shark”, is a close relative of the great white, and among the world’s fast shark species capable of reaching speeds of up to 128km/h.

Often internationally targeted for their fins, makos are classed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

But not in New Zealand.

The blue sharks are often targeted by illegal finning operations as their fins are the most used for shark-fin soup, making them highly valuable and much sought after.

Popular throughout Asia, shark fin soup is thought to have originated in China more than 1000 years ago.

Originally deemed as a dish only for the rich and powerful, its popularity surged during the early 19th Century when living conditions and technological advances made it more accessible to the lower classes.

In 2021, it was perceived by Asian consumers as a status symbol and a show of wealth and power. Environmentalists, on the other hand, deemed it immoral and unethical.

China, the world’s largest consumers of shark fin soup, has seen a dramatic shift in attitudes towards the dish in recent years.

The Chinese government has banned all food and beverages containing shark fins from official functions and some 18,000 hotels have removed them from their menus.

To date, 59 international airlines including Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates have banned shark-fins from being carried on their aircraft as cargo and 17 of the largest container shipping lines have stopped serving shark fin and have also banned it from cargo.

Despite this, New Zealand continues to legally catch and trade shark fins that are readily available in many of the country’s restaurants.

Sage said she and her party will be encouraging the ministers of conservation and oceans and fisheries for an urgent review of the National Plan of Action for Sharks (NPOA-Sharks).

The current NPOA-S dates back to 2014 when the shark finning ban came into law.

“If we phase out the consumption of shark fins all across the world, it is a symbol that people want greater protection for sharks,” she said.

According to the Shark Research Institute, shark finning is a multi-billion-dollar global industry and is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of 100 million sharks each year.

The sharks are highly migratory, often crossing entire oceanic basins during their lives. In some areas of the world, their population has been reduced by up to 80 per cent due to overfishing.