EU takes major step to protect sharks

FILE - In this Tuesday, June 12, 2012 file photo, a worker cuts a shark fin at a fish market in Dubai , United Arab Emirates. The global trade in shark fins totals hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and tens of millions of sharks around the world may be caught every year for their fins. Some experts estimate that stocks of some shark species in inshore reef systems around the world have fallen by up to 90 percent. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union took a major step to protect sharks on Thursday, banning the brutal practice of hacking off their fins before throwing the fish back into the sea to die.

The European Parliament voted by an overwhelming 566-47 margin to force all boats in EU waters and EU-registered vessels around the world to land sharks with their fins attached and prove the animal had not been thrown back finless.

The practice of shark finning stems from the high price the body parts fetch in China for the shark fin soup, a specialty at high-class banquets, and the low value of the rest of the body. The consumption of fins has risen as China's living standards have increased. Fins can sell for as much as $700 a pound.

The European Union has said that some 75 million sharks are killed for their fins only. Since the EU is the biggest exporter, the move should have a sizable impact on shark populations.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature says that about one third of sharks and rays are threatened both in EU waters and around the globe.

Uta Bellion of the Pew Environment Group said that "the parliament's vote is a major milestone in ending the wasteful practice of shark finning." EU nations are expected to back the rule soon.

The EU had rules in place which included the loophole that fins and bodies could be landed in different port, making enforcement that no sharks were tossed back overboard next to impossible.

Now the EU is moving toward a total ban of finning, following a six-year legal fight.

Spain is the top fin exporter. The Oceana conservation group said the EU is the largest shark fishing power in the world with 17 percent of reported shark catches and the largest exporter of shark fins to Hong Kong and mainland China.