Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins. The rest of the body is generally discarded in the ocean; however, some countries have banned this practice and require the whole body to be brought back to port before removing the fins. Sharks without their fins are often still alive; unable to move normally, they 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.
Shark finning has increased over the past decade 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 a minimum of US$540 Million to US$1.2 billion. Shark fins are among the most expensive seafood products worldwide, commonly retailing at US$400 per kg. In the United States, where finning is prohibited, a bowl of shark-fin soup can sell for $70 to $150. For trophy species like the whale shark and basking shark, a single fin can fetch $10,000 to $20,000.