What is shark finning and why is it done?
‘Finning‘ means that the shark’s fins are cut off on board fishing vessels and the animal is thrown back to sea while it may still be alive.
Sharks are fished all over the world, mainly for their fins, which are considered a delicacy in some parts of the world.
Many populations of sharks are in a critical situation. It is urgent to address the worrying situation of sharks globally and the role that demand for shark fins plays in increasing fishing pressure and compromising conservation efforts for these species.
Is shark finning legal in the EU?
The EU was the first to consider shark finning as an unacceptable practice, in 2003. With the “Shark Finning Regulation” (Regulation (EU) No 605/2013), shark finning is forbidden on board of all vessels fishing in EU waters and everywhere else for vessels under the flag of an EU Member State.
Within the EU as well as outside, the EU‘s common fisheries policy (CFP) ensures that the impacts of fishing on sensitive marine species, including sharks, are minimised, taking measures based on science and the precautionary principle.
It is also prohibited to retain on board, tranship or land shark fins. This means fins may only be detached upon landing, when the vessels bring their catches to the port.
What is the role of the EU in fishing and trading of shark fins?
Regarding EU fisheries, between 2019 and 2021, EU vessels reported a total of catches amounting to 248,392 tonnes of sharks, an average of 82,797 tonnes per year.
EU exports are significant for frozen shark fins, they average around 2,300 tonnes and €170 million per year.Globally, trade in shark commodities approached USD 1 billion per year and around 7,100 tonnes of shark fins in 2021.From 2019 to 2021, the main destination countries for EU‘s exports were, in annual average, Singapore (985 tonnes, €13 million), China (893 tonnes, €11 million), Hong Kong (194 tonnes, €7 million).Around 82% of EU exports of shark fins go to Singapore and China.
Why does the Commission need to assess the need for a legislative measure?
The Commission has the legal obligation to reply within six months after the submission of a European citizens’ initiative.
This timeframe was too short to collect all the data and to carry out all the analyses that are necessary to assess the pertinence of initiating a measure such as the one requested by the organisers.
In addition, any legislative proposal at EU level should be preceded by an impact assessment on its possible environmental, social and economic consequences.
This assessment will allow for a well informed and possible future action based on facts. It will comprise analysing:
- the economic, environmental and social impacts for the EU stakeholders and third countries that might be affected;
- potential change in global market dynamics;
- the environmental and socio-economic benefits of better protected shark populations,
- possible alternative means to achieve the aimed objective; and
- a detailed assessment of the most appropriate legal basis and instrument.
What is the EU doing in international organisations to reduce pressure of fishing on sharks?
The EU is a member of 18 Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs). RFMOs comprise countries with fishing interests in a given geographical area. They are open both to countries in the region (‘coastal states’) and countries that have interests in those fisheries (‘distant water fishing nations’).
Throughout the years, Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) have implemented binding measures for the conservation and management of shark species.
In RFMOs, the EU is an active promoter of the conservation and sustainable management of sharks and of the ‘fins naturally attached’ policy as the only effective means to end finning. This has already contributed in the adoption by some RFMOs of the ‘fins naturally attached’ policy as the only option or as one of the options for the implementation of the finning ban.
To strengthen scientific advice in RFMOs, the EU supports scientific work through voluntary financial contributions aiming at developing adequate methodologies to assess the conservation status of key shark species and improving the regulatory framework on sharks’ conservation.
The EU is also an active member of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and promotes the protection of marine species.CITES aims to protect wild animals and plants against over-exploitation through international trade.At the last Conference of the Parties in November 2022, nearly 100 additional species of sharks and rays, and three species of sea cucumbers, were added to the CITES appendices. The EU co-sponsored Panama‘s proposal for listing the family of requiem sharks in CITES Annex II, including blue shark. The listing in Annex II will ensure that trade of the species is controlled, and authorised on the basis of scientific assessment of the species population. The listing will enter into force on 25 November 2023.
Sharks are fished for their fins, which are considered as luxury food in some countries. Should the EU not work with these countries in the first place?
The core of the issue is indeed consumption of shark fins in certain countries, which often goes with illegal trade.
The Commission considers that wildlife trafficking is a major issue and has put forward a new EU Action Plan against wildlife trafficking to further strengthen EU action against this widespread phenomenon.
Accordingly, the Commission will engage with non-EU countries to encourage the reduction of demand for illegally sourced shark fins, and support key countries to build capacities to fight wildlife trafficking. For example, the Commission is preparing a project on wildlife trafficking to be implemented in Asia and Africa and another one on demand reduction in China following a previous successful project.
What is the European citizens’ initiative?
The European citizens’ initiative (ECI) was introduced in April 2012 as an agenda-setting tool in the hands of citizens.An ECI allows 1 million citizens from at least seven EU Member States to invite the European Commission to propose legal action in areas where the Commission has the power to do so.
Under the new ECI Regulation applicable since 1 January 2020, the Commission must react within 6 months of submission of a successful ECI that has managed to collect the required one million validated statements of support in at least seven Member States.
The Commission must decide whether it acts by proposing legislation, acts in some other way to achieve the goals of the ECI, or does not act at all, stating its reasons in each case.
The Commission has to explain its reasoning in a Communication that is adopted by the College of Commissioners. If the Commission intends to act, the Communication must also set out the indicative timeline of its actions.
How many ECIs have been registered in total? What is their status?
Since 2012, the Commission has registered 101 European citizens’ initiatives, thus allowing them to collect citizens’ support.
Of these 101:
- 10 have so far reached the threshold of one million signatures and were submitted to the Commission, with Stop Finning – Stop the Trade’ being the 8th one; 7 among them already received a Commission response, the latest being Save Bees and Farmers!’ in April 2023. Two other ECIs will receive Commission‘s reply still in 2023: “Save cruelty free cosmetics” in July and “Fur Free Europe” in December.
- 23 initiatives have declared having reached the required support, but have not been submitted to the Commission for examination;
- 1 has finished collecting support but has not yet informed about its outcome;
- 8 are currently collecting statements of support and 3 have been registered but are yet to start their collection;
- 56 have reached the end of their collection period without reaching the threshold;
- 21 were withdrawn by the organisers during the collection period.
Has any ECI led to an actual legislative proposal by the Commission?
Since the ECI was launched in 2012, ten initiatives collected over 1 million signatures each and the Commission officially replied to 8 of them; the reply to “Stop Finning – Stop the Trade” is the 8th one.
Out of the first 7, the Commission has committed to follow-up actions on 6 of them:
- In its 2021 response to the “End the Cage Age’ initiative, the Commission committed to tabling, by the end of 2023, a legislative proposal to phase out, and ultimately prohibit, the use of cage systems for all animals mentioned in the initiative.
- In its recent (5 April 2023) reply to the ‘Save Bees and Farmers’ initiative, the Commission welcomed the initiative and acknowledged its importance, in particular in the context of the interlinked crises of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. It underlined that rather than proposing new legislative acts, the priority is to ensure that the proposals currently being negotiated by the co-legislators are adopted on time and then implemented, together with an effective implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy.
- In response to the ‘Right2Water’ initiative, the Commission proposed a revised Directive on Drinking Water to ensure guaranteed access to safe drinking water for Europeans. In December 2019, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU have reached an agreement on the modernised EU rules. The Directive entered into force on 12 January 2021, and the period for Member States to transpose it into national legislation ended in January 2023.
- In response to one of the aims of the initiative ’Ban glyphosate and toxic pesticides’, the Commission adopted a proposal for a Regulation on transparency and sustainability of the EU risk assessment in the food chain, amending the General Food Law Regulation. The Regulation was adopted in 2019 and applies since 27 March 2021. In its response to another objective of this initiative, the Commission also committed to establishing harmonised risk indicators for pesticide use (under Directive 2009/128/EC), which led to the adoption of the Commission Directive 2019/782 establishing Harmonised Risk Indicators on 15 May 2019. The proposal for a regulation on the sustainable use of plant protection products tabled in June 2022 sets out an ambitious path to reduce the risk and use of chemical pesticides in EU agriculture by 50% by 2030.
- The initiative ‘Stop Vivisection‘ called for a proposal for a European legislative framework aimed at phasing out animal experiments.In its Communication of 2015, the Commission responded that Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes already provides the right framework to ensure a high level of protection of the animals used in research, but that a series of non-legislative follow-up actions are taken towards the goal of phasing out animal testing.In December 2016, the Commission organised a scientific conference in Brussels and on that occasion presented a progress report on the actions taken.
- In its
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