In Chile, Oceana’s multi-year goal (2009-2012) is to ban shark finning in Chilean waters by developing and introducing a bill in Congress requiring fishermen to land sharks with their fins naturally attached.
Shark captures have increased in recent years along the coast of Chile. However, there is no evidence that Chileans are consuming shark products in any significant amount. The increase in shark captures is likely due to growing demand for shark fins in Asia.
This lucrative industry has created an economic incentive to fin sharks. Total shark fin exports from Chile between 1997 and 2003 totaled approximately 618 tons, accounting for roughly two to three percent of shark fins exports worldwide. This number is based on reported exports. The actual number is likely to be much higher.
The two species of sharks most commonly finned in Chilean waters are the blue shark and mako shark. The vast majority of blue and mako sharks caught are immature, not having had the chance to reproductively contribute to their population. The practice of finning has become an important activity and source of income for artisanal fishermen.
Previously, these shark species were caught primarily as bycatch in long line and swordfish fisheries. Unfortunately, the increased market value for shark fins has now made these species the target fishery.
Although artisanal fishermen are mostly responsible for finning, industrial fishermen also fin sharks that are caught as bycatch, even when the sharks are capable of surviving post-release.
This problem is largely unknown to the Chilean people. Most Chileans are unaware that their territorial waters host a high diversity of sharks. Raising the public’s awareness of sharks in Chile will be necessary to support our efforts aimed at putting the issue on the legislative agenda.
Increased public pressure to conserve sharks can also lead to beneficial outcomes in international conferences and agreements, such as CITES and CMS.