Shark fins protection welcomed

Plans for new curbs on the practice of removing fins from live sharks have been welcomed by wildlife campaigners.

EU countries are the main exporter of shark fins to China, where they are used to make shark-fin soup.

A meeting in Brussels on Thursday drew up an action plan on “finning”, which results in the deaths of the sharks.

Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said the plans for Scottish waters went further, only giving permission in exceptional circumstances.

Environment groups claimed current law on finning – cutting fins off the living shark and dumping the low-value carcass at sea – was not strict enough.

Mr Lochhead said: “We know that some shark populations are critically endangered, and that is why we are proposing even tougher restrictions in Scotland, sending out a strong message.”

Special fishing permits for taking sharks’ fins were first issued in Scotland in 2004.

The only Scottish-based boats which request the permits are Anglo-Spanish vessels administered from Ayr and Ullapool.

If approved, the new restrictions would ban the granting of permits.

Mr Lochhead said: “We are one of Europe’s most important fishing nations and we have a huge interest in maintaining the sustainability of our seas, their stocks and the wider marine ecosystem.

“I welcome the fact that across Europe commitments are being made to review existing regulations on shark finning. I strongly believe it’s a wasteful and damaging practice.

“In Scotland we will not sit back and wait for things to happen. We are determined to develop robust, workable procedures, proving beyond doubt that we are leading the rest of Europe on the conservation front.”

Ali Hood, director of conservation for the Shark Trust, said: “The shark fin trade encourages unsustainable mortality and unacceptable waste – these proposals will ensure compliance and potentially reduce the requests for permits to near zero.

“Mr Lochhead has recognised the urgent need for strict management measures for sharks and Scotland is setting a fine example to the rest of the UK and Europe.”

Louize Hill, marine policy officer at WWF Scotland, said: “As well as being an incredibly wasteful practice, with over 90% in weight of the shark discarded, many shark species are threatened with extinction.

“Only effective control and enforcement, such as the measures proposed here, will protect these vulnerable species.

“Once again Scotland looks set to be at the forefront of fisheries conservation.”