BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has outlawed the practice of slaughtering sharks for their fins, which are then sold to lucrative Asian markets where shark fin soup is a delicacy, according to an official regulation posted on Friday.
European fishing fleets have become major exporters of fins to Hong Kong, the most significant market in Asia.
Shark meat is of little value as it is considered tough to eat, and the practice of "finning," hacking the fins off living sharks and dumping them back in the sea, has been blamed for pushing some species close to extinction.
"The practice of 'shark finning'...may contribute to the excessive mortality of sharks to such an extent that many stocks of sharks are depleted, and their future sustainability may be endangered," the EU said in its Official Journal.
Shark fin soup is widely served at Chinese wedding banquets as a symbol of generosity and wealth, and as many as 40 sharks can be killed to supply each wedding. In some restaurants in the region, a bowl of the soup can cost $100.
The EU rules will come into force in 60 days and aim to stop fishermen hacking off sharks' fins and dumping the fish in the sea, where they sink to the bottom of the ocean and die.
"Measures to restrict or prevent the further development of the practice of shark finning are urgently required, and the removal of shark fins on board vessels should therefore be prohibited," read the regulation's text.
The regulation applies to EU-registered ships as well as non-EU vessels that operate in EU waters and will prevent them from landing or selling shark fins that are removed on board.
Fishermen will still be able to remove fins if they can prove that they are making efficient use of all shark parts by processing them separately on board, in which case the entire body will have to be accounted for.
Environmentalists say around 100 million sharks are caught worldwide every year, mostly just for their fins.
Note: Grant Pereria of Sea Shepherd Asia continues to lead the struggle to ban shark fins in Asia. Grant's campaign has been very successful in publicizing the excessive consumption of shark fins.