“Isn’t this illegal in Australia?”
One of the most common questions I get asked about sharks isn’t how awesome they are (how can you not love something that’s been swimming in the oceans for 450 million years!?) or how many shark and ray species we have in Australia (the answer is 322).
Mostly, when people are wandering through markets and stores, they will see shark fin soup on sale, or even baskets of dried shark fins and contact us to ask: “Isn’t this illegal in Australia?”
The short answer is, unfortunately, no.
But before we look at why, let’s answer another important question…
What is shark finning?
Shark finning is the process of catching a shark for the sole purpose of harvesting its fins.
The practice involves cutting the dorsal, pectoral and tail fins from sharks that are alive, with the body of the shark thrown overboard at sea.
This cruel practice was widely common.
Luckily, this process is now illegal in all jurisdictions in Australia thanks largely to the Australian Marine Conservation Society campaigning with ocean lovers around the country.
The process is illegal, the trade isn’t
It may be illegal to cut the fins off a live shark, but it is completely legal to catch most sharks in Australia and sell their meat – often called ‘flake’. Fishers can then sell their shark fins separately.
So you cannot report those shark fins you saw at the shops or the shark fin soup you saw advertised at a restaurant.
Furthermore, it is not illegal to export or import shark fins under Australian law.
In fact, a Freedom of Information request revealed that in 2011-12 financial year, Australia exported of 178 tonnes of shark fin and imported 41 tonnes of fin. That ranks Australia as the 16th in the world for imports of shark fin.