Demand for shark fins in Asia sees Spain become biggest supplier
Concerns raised over "finning," whereby fish left to painful death after flesh removed20 February 2008
MADRID - Shark meat may be a rare sight on Spanish dinner tables, but for the country's fishing industry, the flesh - and particularly the fins - of the sea's greatest predator is an increasingly prized commodity.
Continuing a trend that has long worried environmentalists, in recent years Spain has become the biggest supplier of shark fins to the Asian market, where they are used in soups and other dishes by the Chinese and Japanese. It is also the biggest exporter of frozen shark fins worldwide.
Environmentalists claim that some Spanish fishing boats have adopted the practice of finning - in which sharks are captured and hauled alongside the boat where fishermen carve off their dorsal and pectoral fins with knives before casting the remains back out to sea - in their effort to meet demand and cash in on a lucrative product. Though banned by the European Union and most countries worldwide, conservationists claim that finning continues clandestinely, sending millions of sharks to agonising deaths each year and bringing some species to the brink of extinction.
Spanish fishing industry representatives denied the allegations on Tuesday. Speaking at a seminar in Madrid on the sustainability of the shark-fishing industry, the Agriculture Ministry's head of sea fisheries, Juan Carlos Martín Fragueiro, said that Spain's shark fishermen comply with all the rules.
"Spanish boats take all of the sharks' bodies - they don't throw anything away," he said.
According to figures from 2005, the last year for which full data is available, Spanish boats captured 48,677 tonnes of shark meat, almost half of the total taken by EU countries. Most of the fish were caught in the Atlantic and included hammerhead sharks, great whites and tiger sharks. Much of the meat, particularly the fins, was exported to Asia.
"We do separate the fins from the body, but we strictly follow EU regulations regarding the use of the fins and the weight of the animal. We do not practice finning, because that is prohibited," Martín Fragueiro said.
However, environmentalists say that finning is not the only problem. The capture of endangered species also remains a concern, with data showing that EU vessels caught more than 3,200 tonnes of endangered sharks and rays in 2006.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / ANGELES ESPINOSA 2008]
Subject: Spanish news