Is the “5%" Rule” failing to protect sharks?

417px-Shark_finsShark finning is decimating shark populations across the world. The sharks are caught then the fins removed and the sharks – sometimes still alive but fatally wounded – are thrown back overboard. Some countries have regulations limiting the amount of bodiless fins that can be landed, but researchers are now asking if these measures are enough.

Many counties, including the UK and other EU countries allow detached fins to be landed as long as the weight of the fins do not exceed 5% of the bodyweight of landed sharks. It is meant to allow processing of the sharks to take place aboard ships. The bodies of the sharks are still meant to be bought ashore rather than dumped at sea.

A new study undertaken by researchers at University of British Columbia  seems to suggest that the 5% mark still allows for nearly 1 shark to be finned and thrown overboard for every shark that is finned and landed.

The study published in Fish Biology indicates that the average weight of a shark fin in relation to it’s body is only 3% – well under the current 5% limit allowed. As a result extra shark fins can be landed (without the body) for every shark body that is landed: it is not a 1:1 ratio.

The five percent ratio provides an opportunity to harvest extra fins from more sharks without retaining 100 per cent of the corresponding shark carcasses,” says Sea Around Us Project researcher Leah Biery, lead author of the study. “It does not prevent waste or overfishing, as the law intended.”

The marine biologists looked at the relationship between fin and body weight of 50 species of shark. They also looked at the different fin cutting practises within 8 different countries. The variation between species and fin cutting practise was substantial.

The ration of fin to body weight for different species ranged from as low as 1.1% up to 10.9%. For the eight countries examined in the survey depending on species found and fin cutting method employed the percentage of fin to body weight ranged from 1.5% to 6.1%.

More information on this story is available here.

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