The practice of 'shark finning' refers to the practice of removing only the fins from sharks and discarding the remainder of the shark while at sea. This extremely wasteful and increasingly illegal practice only utilizes 2 to 5% of the shark and has greatly contributed to the overexploitation of shark species worldwide. Finning exacerbates the problem by making identification of species and the recording of species-specific catch data challenging.
The vast majority of fins are exported to major Asian markets, where the value of the product is highest. As one of eight most treasured foods from the sea, shark fins are primarily used to make shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese dish often served at important dinners to express the host's respect for their guests. The fin trade today is considered to be a primary driver in shark exploitation. Based on shark fin trade data, it is estimated that between 26 and 73 million sharks are killed for their fins each year. These estimates are three to four times higher than the catches reported on a voluntary basis to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which maintains the only global database of shark catches. Estimates place Hong Kong's share of the worldwide market trade between 50 to 85%, sourcing fins from 85 countries.
While the act of 'finning' is a major threat to sharks in other parts of the world, in Atlantic Canada it is not the main threat to shark species. Finning was prohibited in Canada in June of 1994. Worldwide, including Canada, the most widely adopted management measure is the 5% ratio rule, allowing the landing of a maximum of 5% fins relative to the weight of the landed carcasses. This rule contains loopholes that allow for practices such as highgrading (mixing carcasses and fins from different sharks) and retaining more fins for every carcass. Scientists have recommended a "fins-attached” strategy as the best method for preventing finning and for collecting the species-specific shark catch information needed for population assessments.