Millions of sharks are still being slaughtered for their fins, suffering prolonged and painful deaths for the sake of a disturbing so-called delicacy—shark fin soup. Finning a shark is not only a death sentence but the process is also extremely cruel. Fishermen slice off sharks' fins while they are still alive, holding them down as they writhe in pain and slowly suffocate on deck before dumping them overboard and leaving the traumatised animals, who are now unable to swim, to sink to the ocean floor. The horrific practice of finning sharks at sea is done exclusively for profit because fishers can bring in more fins than they would be able to if they took the full body of each slaughtered shark. Shark fins are still being sold in Sydney for a hefty $1,000 price tag. In Australia live shark finning is illegal, yet because legislation differs between various States and the Commonwealth it is extremely difficult to monitor fisheries' compliance with shark finning legislation and sharks continue to be at risk of illegal finning.
In 2015 a boat was apprehended in Queensland waters carrying 3,200 shark fins most likely destined for the black market. The fine given for the death of the 641 finned sharks was only $7,750, putting the penalty for each animal at just $12. That is hardly a deterrence for others thinking of engaging in such a horrific practice. In 2017 in New South Wales fisheries officers located and seized 40 kilograms of illegally obtained shark fins, revealing that hundreds of sharks are still being finned in our waters. Yet while live finning may be illegal in Australia our laws continue to support and condone this cruel industry by allowing the export and import of shark fins. In the 2011‑12 financial year Australia exported 178 tonnes of shark fins which is the equivalent of approximately 89,000 shark fins. Australia also imported 41 tonnes of shark fin, which is the equivalent of another 20,500 fins.
Those figures are horrifying not only because they put into perspective how destructive the industry is—Australia ranks sixteenth in the world for imports of shark fin—but because they make clear the number of horrific live finning deaths we are sponsoring, given that we continue to allow the importation of shark fin. Genetic research has revealed that a high proportion of globally traded fins come from species that have serious conservation risks. By importing shark fin from overseas we are directly contributing to the slaughter of those endangered species, given our weak regulations on the labelling or mislabelling of those so‑called products. Keep in mind it is an industry that is not only condemning millions of sharks to cruel and traumatic deaths but is also destroying our oceans. It is well‑recognised among experts that the international shark fin trade is responsible for the decline in shark populations. Sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing because of their slow growth and relatively low rates of reproduction.
It is no wonder that nearly one‑third of oceanic sharks are listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Sharks, which are dying in their millions, are apex predators. It is they who keep the critical balance of our oceans in check. Without them delicate ocean ecosystems will suffer and are already suffering unpredictable and devastating consequences, including the loss of marine diversity and declining food sources for scavengers. With sharks continuing to die in their millions and the future of our oceans at stake, we cannot continue to support this cruel and inhumane industry. It is time Australia took action to address the worldwide decline in sharks caused by the devastating shark fin trade. We must ban the import and export of shark fins. We must legislate and enforce tougher penalties for those who illegally kill for shark fins. We must make it an offence to sell food containing shark fins in New South Wales.