By Charles Barker – Friday, 9th July 2021

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At last, there are signs that some governments are recognising the desperate plight of the oceans in general and of sharks in particular. I list below some highlights of their stated intentions over the last couple of months. As we all know, however, stating good intentions and delivering on promises are sadly often oceans apart. 


1. Significantly on World Oceans Day, 8th June 2021, the US Senate passed a ban on shark finning under the ‘Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act 2021’. In essence, the Act will prohibit anyone from possessing, transporting, offering for sale, selling or purchasing shark fins or products containing shark fins. The Act has still to be ratified by the House of Representatives. 


Inevitably, there are a number of exceptions, such that a person may possess a shark fin that was taken lawfully under a State, territorial, or Federal license or permit to take or land sharks, if the shark fin is separated from the shark in a manner consistent with the license or permit, etc. etc. … 


The legislation will have ‘teeth’ and transgressors will face a maximum civil penalty for each violation of $100,000, or the fair market value of the shark fins involved, whichever is greater.


Sadly, the bill does not protect the fishing and killing of ‘whole’ sharks. With increasing demand for other shark products, such as skins for accessories, oil for cosmetics and health products, meat for food, as well as fins for soup, the plight of sharks is becoming increasingly perilous. The rate at which they are being killed is completely unsustainable and this bill is likely to do little to help them as they swim inexorably towards extinction.


2. On the same day, Governor David Ige of Hawai’i signed into law, House Bill 553; Relating to Shark Protection, protecting more than 40 species of sharks that frequent state waters in Hawaiʻi.


The law will bring an end to shark trophy hunting charters, the take of baby sharks for the aquarium pet trade and the intentional killing or mutilation of sharks for their teeth, jaws or other parts. This is a more effective bill, as it protects the whole shark.


As in the US Congress, exceptions are allowed, notably the Bill will not criminalize the accidental capture and release of a shark if incidentally captured while lawfully fishing for other species. It also exempts permitted research, education and special activity permits for cultural use.


3. On the other side of the world, the European Union has taken a step towards nurturing a healthy Ocean by voting for an ‘EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030: Bringing nature back into our lives’. The Strategy does not specifically address sharks but recognises the critical state of the oceans and highlights the need to reverse marine biodiversity loss. It is a shame that the target date is so far away; who knows how many more endangered species will have become extinct by then. However, key elements of the strategy include:


  • strong support for the EU targets of protecting at least 30% of the EU’s marine and terrestrial areas (why only 30% I do not comprehend!)

  • calls on member states to ban bottom-trawling in marine protected areas (MPAs) and sensitive coastal areas (this destructive practice should simply be banned everywhere!)

  • a push for the final negotiations to take place for the global High Seas Treaty to protect marine biodiversity. This has been delayed due to Covid-19 and has been pushed back to 2022 (no date has yet been fixed)

  • and support for a moratorium on deep-seabed mining until more is known on its effects on the marine environment


4. The G7 meeting in the UK addressed a number of issues related to the oceans, most of which fell under the G7 2030 Nature Compact, expressed in a commitment of four core pillars. Highlights of these included:


  • (Pillar 1E) Addressing the adverse impact of human activity, such as litter and unsustainable fishing practices, on the marine environment.  

“We recognise the importance of international action to deter and end illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, including through support to developing countries, and we commit to concluding ongoing WTO negotiations as swiftly as possible to prohibit certain harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to overfishing, overcapacity and IUU fishing.”


  • (Pillar 3C) Working together to agree and meet targets to increase the abundance of species populations worldwide, significantly reduce overall species extinction risk and eventually stop human-induced extinctions. 

  • (Pillar 3D) Driving increased global cooperation on the ocean, recognising that two thirds is outside of national jurisdiction: in support of increased ocean protection and conservation this decade, we will work to conclude the negotiation of a new and ambitious international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.


5. The UK has just launched a $500 million Blue Planet Fund to tackle unsustainable fishing and restore marine ecosystems. Its aim is to help developing countries:


  • reduce poverty

  • protect and sustainably manage their marine resources

  • deal with human-generated threats across 4 key themes: biodiversity, climate change, marine pollution and sustainable seafood

It also announced a trial of highly protected marine areas - action sorely needed, given data reported just before the G7 shows that today 97% of the UK’s offshore MPAs are being dredged and bottom trawled – (illegal, naturally)




It remains to be seen how rigorously these pledges are followed up and implemented. Frankly, my faith in the effectiveness of global leadership is not high, as exemplified by their collective ineptitude in the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. I am also disheartened when I see timelines for implementation of government targets set up 30 years away; the governments in question have little incentive to deliver on their promises and most endangered creatures will have become extinct by then and many more will have been added to the list. 


I suppose, though, a little is better than nothing. Let’s hope so for the sake of the sharks, the oceans and the planet.


Acknowledgements and thanks to:


Hong Kong Shark Foundation


Shark Stewards

Ocean Unite


MAY 2020