Shark finning is the act of removing fins from sharks, often while the shark is alive. The sharks are sometimes discarded back into the ocean, still alive but without their fins. Unable to swim effectively, they sink to the bottom of the ocean and die of suffocation or are eaten by other predators. Shark finning at sea enables fishing vessels to increase profitability and increase the number of sharks harvested, as they only have to store and transport the fins, by far the most profitable part of the shark; the shark meat is bulky to transport. Some countries have banned this practice and require the whole shark to be brought back to port before removing the fins.
Shark finning increased since 1997 largely due to the increasing demand for shark fins for shark fin soup and traditional cures, particularly in China and its territories, and as a result of improved fishing technology and market economics. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Shark Specialist Group say that shark finning is widespread, and that “the rapidly expanding and largely unregulated shark fin trade represents one of the most serious threats to shark populations worldwide”. Estimates of the global value of the shark fin trade range from US$540 million to US$1.2 billion (2007). Shark fins are among the most expensive seafood products, commonly retailing at US$400 per kg. In the United States, where finning is prohibited, some buyers regard the whale shark and the basking shark as trophy species, and pay $10,000 to $20,000 for a fin.
The regulated global catch of sharks reported to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been stable in recent years at an annual average just over 500,000 tonnes. Additional unregulated and unreported catches are thought to be common.