Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:51 pm on 20th January 2023.
I congratulate Christina Rees on introducing this important legislation. Although for many in the UK sharks are associated with “Jaws”, they are actually one of our planet’s oldest species and inhabit seas and oceans in all corners of the world. Although the UK and the EU have banned the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning since 2003, we still facilitate the finning of sharks in other territories by allowing the import and export of detached shark fins.
Alongside formal imports, people can bring in up to 20 kg of detached fins as an allowance for personal consumption. Not only is 20 kg a significant quantity for any one household to eat, making around 700 bowls of soup, but it has a value of up to £4,000 and is entering the country tax-free. I am glad that the Government have clarified that this Bill will also prevent the import of fins using this exemption and stop the unregulated trade of fins into this country.
Sharks have been in our oceans for more than 420 million years, surviving five mass extinctions. They are an important species in our oceans as apex predators in the food chains and maintain balance for a healthy food chain. We already know that the overfishing of sharks has negative effects on the species below them, reducing the diversity and health of reefs and other environments.
Growing up along the coast and now representing the beautiful coastline of North Devon, I have always been delighted to find mermaid purses. Once thought to be, literally, the purses of mermaids washed ashore, they are actually egg cases of sharks and rays, and a good indication of the health of their populations in our coastal waters. I urge anyone who lives there to register their egg case finds with the Great Eggcase Hunt, which was established in 2003 to help scientists track our shark and ray populations.
If we are not to repeat the mistakes of our past, we must stop overfishing our apex predators. Given their size, it is estimated that, at the peak of whaling, there was an 80% reduction in the amount of carbon captured, stored or sequestered, by our seas, roughly equivalent to 50,000 hectares of forest a year. Like sharks, blue carbon is still not clearly understood, but it is crucial to the health of our oceans and our planet. Targeting apex predators, which can reach massive sizes, is adding significant amounts of carbon to our atmosphere.
It would be beyond unacceptable if, after surviving five mass extinctions over 420 million years, sharks were driven to extinction for nothing more than their fins. I applaud the Bill. Now that we have left the EU, we are freer to enact this legislation, and I hope that other nations follow our lead.