In a monumental move aimed at protecting the fragile aquatic ecosystem of the southwestern Pacific, the New Zealand government fast-tracked a ban on shark finning.
Government leaders had passed similar legislation earlier this year, which would have gone into effect in 2016. But after receiving a widespread show of support from the public and representatives from the fisheries industry, officials decided to outlaw shark finning as of October of this year.
"Implementing this ban has happened much faster than originally proposed," says Conservation Minister Dr. Nick Smith, in a press release. "It reinforces New Zealand's strong international reputation for sustainability and protecting our natural environment."
The waters around New Zealand are home to 113 species of shark, says Dr. Smith, including some which have declined by as much as 98 percent in the last few decades. Every year, an estimated 73 million sharks are caught worldwide to satisfy demand for their fins which are used to make shark fin soup, considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.
Sharks caught for their fins are often returned to the ocean to die; in other cases, they are killed before their fins are removed and their bodies disposed of. Both practices will now be prohibited in New Zealand, which typically exports around 120 tons of sharks annually. The measure could prevent thousands of shark deaths per year.
"Sharks play an important role in our marine ecosystems, and we need to ensure the appropriate management of the 113 species of shark in our waters," Dr. Smith says. "This ban builds on New Zealand's proud history of balancing conservation and the prudent use of resources to ensure their long-term sustainability."