There's good news on the horizon for sharks in New Zealand waters as the country's government recently announced a decision to ban all shark finning from the start of October. Initially set to be phased in over a two-year period, the ban was fast-tracked following overwhelming support from the public and fisheries stakeholders to carry out the new ruling as soon as possible.

However, the news has met with a lukewarm response from some shark conservationists, who argue that the proposed ban is not without its problems.

While the removal of fins from live sharks is already illegal in the country, the new ruling aims to put a stop to the controversial practice of hacking fins off dead sharks and dumping what's left of the carcasses overboard.

Shark Fins 2014 08 22
The global shark catch in 2012 was estimated at 100 million animals. Will New Zealand's new rules do enough to reduce the killing? Image: Choo Yut Shing

The biggest concern is that exemptions have been made for certain shark species, which could still allow them to be finned at sea. Conservation group New Zealand Shark Alliance is pushing for a 'fins naturally attached (FNA)' policy, which means that sharks not fully utilised at sea will be brought back to shore in one piece. While this approach is being implemented for most species, the new ruling still allows for finning of certain sharks according to a 'fins ratio' approach.

"Loopholes could mean some shark finning of species like mako and porbeagle sharks could continue," says Greenpeace New Zealand Oceans Campaigner Karli Thomas. "Stipulating a certain weight ratio of shark fins to carcasses is simply not as effective as requiring sharks to be landed whole, with their fins naturally attached." 

"Ratios aren’t accurate. Overseas experience shows they create loopholes that fishers will continue to exploit. It’s an approach that has been tried and rejected by many other countries, in favour of bringing these sharks back to shore whole," she adds.

“Loopholes could mean some shark finning of species like mako and porbeagle sharks could continue.”

Another concern is that the ban will be difficult to enforce. With very few observers aboard New Zealand fishing vessels, there is little to stop fishers from simply killing sharks and dumping them overboard without anyone knowing about it.

Says Forest & Bird Marine Advocate Katrina Goddard: "There is a clear need for much greater observer coverage onboard fishing boats operating inside New Zealand's four million square kilometre-plus Exclusive Economic Zone."

Source: WWF New Zealand