Airlines, shipping firms urged to ban shark fin shipments

PT JYOTHI DATTA Mumbai July 21 | Updated on July 21, 2014 Published on July 21, 2014

Shark fin soup may be an Asian delicacy but the international trade in shark fins is pushing several of the fish species to the brink, say environmental groups, as they urge airline companies to stop transporting the item.

In a letter to Air India and Jet Airways, the Humane Society International (HSI-India) has asked the airline companies to have a policy against the shipment of shark fins and join a “growing league of environmentally conscious airlines”.

“The shark is to a marine eco-system what the tiger is to land,” explains C Samyukta, an HSI wildlife campaigner. And since it is the top predator, it is important to keeping the balance of the ecosystem, she adds.

Come August, Singapore Airlines cargo will not accept shipments of shark fins, joining a group of about 20 airline companies which have made similar public commitments. Theis include Emirates, Philippines Airlines, Korean Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Qantas and Air New Zealand. India is among the leaders in shark hunting. So banning shark fin transportation will help reduce the trade and protect the sharks, says Samyukta. Etihad has also committed to not carrying shark fins and primates, says another campaigner, hoping that their ethics policy will prevail over Jet in India, since the have an alliance here.

Criminal repercussions

Jet Airways and Air India did not comment on the issue.

In earlier petitions to airline companies, groups like Shark Rescue and MyOcean Ltd have pointed out that shipping liners such as Maersk and Taiwan’s Evergreen Line have also banned carriage of all shark-related products on their container ships.

Poor regulation of the fishing industry means many endangered sharks are illegally finned and often end up in shipments. Interpol’s Environmental Crime Program cautions that companies transporting fins may held criminally culpable. “Until the legality and sustainability of the sources of shark fin can be adequately accounted for, we recommend all companies involved in logistics to suspend the transport of shark fin as a precautionary measure and responsible business practice,” the petition said.

India’s finning ban

Last August, India banned shark finning – a process where fins are cut and the bleeding shark is thrown back into the sea, causing it to die a slow and painful death. But implementing the law at the State level continues to be a challenge, says Samyukta, as it is difficult to distinguish between species.

Shark fins are not lucrative for fishermen; only traders benefit from their sale into lucrative markets in South-East Asia, she says. For the fisherman, every part of the shark has a buyer, including its bones (for medicinal purposes), skin (leather) and shark liver oil (cosmetic and pharmaceutical uses), she added.

Vincent Jain, with the Association of Deep Sea Going Artisanal Fishermen, says that Indian fishermen have moved away from fishing of sharks. Of the 600 boats from Kanyakumari, most have moved towards catching other fishes, he points out.

The Association used to account for half the shark catches from India, but no longer, he says. Supporting the finning ban, Jain says fishermen groups need to play a larger role in implementing the ban.

A National Mission for the Conservation of Sharks in India, comprising scientists and fishermen, has been created to rightly implement the finning ban, he says. They are scheduled to have their second meeting in Chennai later this month.

Published on July 21, 2014
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