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Europe May Toss Finning Permit to Protect Sharks

(CN) - European legislators backed a plan Monday to toss a special permit that lets fishermen remove shark fins aboard fishing vessels.

Shark finning has been banned on EU vessels since 2003, but those boats with a permit can still slice the shark fins from the carcasses on board. Shark fins are a delicacy in Asia, used in soup and in traditional cures, and demand for fins has increased in recent years alongside the rise of the Chinese middle class.

The European Commission proposed amending the regulation on March 6, and the Council of the European Union gave its approval Monday.

"The commission proposal aims to suppress this derogation which would mean sharks can only be landed with their fins attached," the council said in a statement from Brussels.

Changing the law will improve management of shark populations, the council said.

"While this practice is forbidden in EU waters and on EU vessels, the still possible processing on board has cast doubts about the effectiveness of controls - which relies on carcase-to-fin weight ratios - and impedes the improvement of landing statistics, the latter being necessary to allow for science-based management of shark species," according to the statement, which uses the British spelling variant for carcass.

While shark finning is illegal in many American states and territories, possessing and selling shark fins is not. There is pending legislation in Maryland, Illinois, New York, California, Guam, Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands to change that. Oregon and Washington have already enacted bills banning the trade of shark fins, according to the international marine advocacy group Oceana.

Shark meat is considered inferior to that of other fish, and shark bodies are generally large and bulky. As a result, fin collectors often take only the lucrative fin - a bowl of shark-fin soup can cost up to US $100, according to Oceana - and leave behind the rest, tossing the finless shark back into the ocean to bleed to death.

The group estimates that between 26 and 73 million sharks are finned each year for a dish that has no nutritional value and that may actually be bad for humans.

"Each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins to fulfill the demand for shark fin soup," according to testimony Oceana marine scientist Rebecca Greenberg sent to the Maryland House of Delegates in February. "Shark fin has no flavor or nutritional value. In fact, because sharks are apex predators, they accumulate high levels of mercury which can have toxic effects on humans. Despite this, shark fin is still in high demand, and is sometimes the most expensive item on restaurant menus."

Because of their slow growth and relatively few offspring, sharks are particularly "vulnerable to over-exploitation" the EU Council said.

The plan now moves on to a first reading in the European Parliament.

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