Picture: Reuters
Cape Town – New data shows a continued decline in the number of shark finning incidents, according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

This was in response to the Department of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs speaking out as one of 58 signatories to an anti-shark finning letter addressed to MSC chief executive Rupert Howes, its trustees and council to urgently address the inhumane act.

The letter, co-ordinated by Sharkproject and endorsed by organisations from around the world, outlines incidences related to a number of tuna fisheries where the MSC standard was inconsistently applied.

MSC’s ecolabel and certification programme recognises and rewards sustainable fishing practices and prohibits the act of removing fins from sharks and discarding the rest of the shark.

MSC’s South African manager, Michael Marriott, said new data showed a continued decline in the practice by parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) purse seine tuna fishery, including the MSC-certified skipjack and yellowfin free-school fishery.

“It’s important to note that incidences in MSC certified fisheries are in fact very low, so I would have expected the focus to be on non-certified fisheries. The main focus of the 58 signatories is the scoring and continued certification of the PNA skipjack fishery. 

"The letter’s focus is on incidences recorded since 2012, though there has been a clear decline that is linked to the fishery’s MSC certification and the introduction and the subsequent ban on shark finning in PNA countries - a success story.”

Despite the practice being an animal welfare issue, as opposed to a sustainability issue, the MSC opted in 2013 to exclude fisheries where shark finning was practised, said Marriott.

Shark fins are considered of a high monetary and cultural value in certain parts of Asia and used in soup, which is a status symbol.

Sharks are often still alive when discarded, but unable to swim effectively and sink to the bottom of the ocean and die of suffocation or are eaten by other predators, killing an estimated 100million sharks a year globally.

Department deputy director- general for fisheries management Siphokazi Ndudane said shark finning violated the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s code of conduct for responsible fisheries.

“The MSC ecolabel has an important part to play in enabling consumers to make more sustainable seafood choices, and therefore has a responsibility to urgently address the issues raised by a range of stakeholders.

“If a small fishing nation like South Africa can implement a fins-attached policy in its domestic tuna long-line fishery, surely MSC can consistently apply and implement its own ‘fins naturally attached’ policy as well.”

Cape Times