Africa Defense Forum
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Trawlers Illegally Target Sharks for Fins, Decimating the Population


Longtime observers of illegal fishing say the practice of shark finning is among the most barbaric acts committed at sea. Typically, when a shark is caught, its fins are removed and the body is thrown overboard, leaving the fish to slowly die.

Countries such as The Gambia and South Africa have banned shark finning altogether, although many nations allow it if the number of shark carcasses on a vessel corresponds with the number of fins.

One Chinese company, Dalian Ocean Fishing, takes staggering amounts of sharks from waters around the continent, according to a report by Mongabay, which interviewed dozens of deckhands who worked on the company’s fleet of about 35 longline trawlers. Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in China and other regions.

Longliners typically use thousands of baited hooks that are dragged through the sea to capture tuna and other fish. But Dalian Ocean Fishing’s boats used illegal gear to catch tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of sharks each year, including protected species, the workers told Mongabay.

In 2019, the company’s boats in the western Pacific secretly caught more shark than the official total reported by China’s entire longline fleet in the region, according to information provided to Mongabay by the former deckhands.

“That a handful of fishing boats may be taking more sharks than their entire flag-state is reporting as the total catch for the year is risking sustainability, threatens scientists’ understanding of the status of shark populations, and puts responsible fishing operations at a competitive disadvantage,” Rachel Hopkins, project director for international fisheries at The Pew Charitable Trusts, told Mongabay.

Humans catch 100 million sharks a year, according to Marine Policy, and overfishing is pushing sharks toward extinction.

Since 1970, the world’s shark population has declined by 71%, according to a study published by

“In the past 50 years, human populations and fishing activity have doubled while our shark catch has tripled,” Nathan Pacoureau, a marine biologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada, told Mongabay. “Combined with their increasing rarity, that means relative fishing pressure on sharks and rays is now 18 times greater.”

The Environmental Justice Foundation recently interviewed more than 115 Indonesians who worked on 88 Chinese trawlers, 95% of whom said they had seen sharks being finned on board the vessels.

“I was quite dumbstruck by the level of abuse that we found,” foundation CEO Steve Trent told Mongabay.

One former deckhand said they caught “countless sharks.”

“Enough to destroy an ecosystem,” the deckhand told the foundation.

Shark finning appears to be “running throughout and across the Chinese distant-water fleet,” Trent added. “It’s not just a rogue element within it.”

In 2019, China banned shark finning and the deliberate catching of sharks, but experts say enforcement is lacking.

“The primary agency responsible for this rests with the Chinese government,” Trent told Mongabay. “They are responsible, they should be assessing far greater control, and they’re simply not.”

China is the world’s worst illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing offender, according to the IUU Fishing Index.

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