By Abhinav Singh
Shark-Finning is a cruel practice wherein the fins of sharks are sliced off and the shark is thrown back into the sea, where they slowly bleed to death. The value of fins is comparatively higher than the meat of shark. The majority of shark fins obtained from Indian coasts are exported to China, Singapore and Hong Kong through Mumbai and Chennai. In the domestic Indian market, wholesale prices for shark fins vary between Rs.280-340 per kg. In the Chinese markets, they are often sold at a five times greater price, with the middlemen pocketing most of the profits. These fins are used in making ‘soups’. In the Chinese culture, shark fin soup represents wealth and prestige and is served at weddings and other special occasions.
One of the most important questions which might pop up in the minds of readers is: why in the first place do we need to save sharks? The researcher’s response to that dilemma is that the oceans are the most important ecosystem on the planet, and are our best defense against global warming. Oceans contain species that absorb most of the carbon dioxide (global warming gas) that we put into the atmosphere, and convert it into a large percentage of the oxygen that we breathe. Sharks play a vital role in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems by producing more oxygen. Also, sharks play an important role in balancing the food chain in the ocean. The oceans depend on them to keep the numbers of other fish and mammal species in check and weed out the sick, injured and dying so that populations of fish stay strong and healthy. Commercial exploitation, in form of shark-finning, destroys shark populations and results in the destruction of the ecosystem.
Initially, the shark had not been identified for exclusive protection under any legislation in India, though fish habitats had been protected. But eventually, with the passage of time, the legislature realized that the shark needs special protection and hence they incorporated the term ‘shark’ specifically in the Wildlife Protection Act.  However, there are factors which act as hurdles in the protection of sharks. The first hurdle in regulation and prohibition of shark- finning in India is lack of research available on sharks. There is very little baseline information available on shark populations, consumption of shark products, volume of international trade, contribution of sharks in economy and maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems. The second impediment is intense lobbying. In the absence of research and data, lobbying parties like the commercial fishing fleets, succeed in creating enough doubt in the legislature’s minds that there is no need to protect sharks. This is evident from the fact that Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) banned harvesting of 60 different marine species including the entire class of sharks, rays and skates, under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.  But, due to intense lobbying by shark traders, MOEF revoked the ban partially on December 5, 2001 and only nine out of fifty are now considered as protected species.
Furthermore, bribery and under the table dealing makes the condition worse in India as the authorities to whom the burden of executing law lies are generally bribed by wealthy middle men who smuggle these to other countries.The lack of resources (in terms of money as well as manpower) allotted by the government for regulation and protection of fisheries makes the present condition more vulnerable as the absence of resources makes it almost impossible to carry out sea- patrolling and inspection of boats and log books. Also, the low level of sensitivity for marine species in India is a big motivator for those who are involved in illegal shark-fining. Most of the time, people in India bother not to report this illegal practice. One of the main reasons which can be attributed to this insensitivity is the image of shark as ‘human eaters’.
Because of above mentioned problems, researcher advocates for the adoption of the ‘Shark Fins Naturally Attached Policy’, which demands that fishermen cannot land a shark without its fins intact on the body and cannot possess, transfer or land shark fins that are not naturally attached to the corresponding carcass. The policy will definitely help in safeguarding shark species against shark-finning because the fishing vessels will have no option other than to return to port with the whole shark, making the practice unprofitable.