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A Bill to ban the import and export of shark fins has the “full support” of the Government.
Opening the second reading debate of her Shark Fins Bill, Labour’s Christina Rees told the Commons “sharks desperately need our help and protection”.
She argued a ban on import and export of detached shark fins is “crucial to the long-term conservation of sharks”.
The introduction of her Private Member’s Bill follows a campaign to ban the trade of fins in the UK, which included a parliamentary e-petition which received more then 100,000 signatures.
The MP for Neath said the creatures play a “vital role” in marine ecosystems, and while there are “many threats” facing sharks, “the greatest” is overfishing.
Environment minister Steve Double told MPs the Bill has the full support of the Government, and that ministers will do all they can to “assist its swift passage through both Houses”.
He stressed the Government is only able to “take this step through this Bill” because “we have left the European Union”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised in 2019 to use Brexit to champion animal welfare – including a ban on shark fin exports and imports.
Last August, the Government announced a “world-leading ban”, tied in with ending trade in foie gras and controls on fur coats, but the proposal was subsequently dropped after a backlash from ministers who reportedly argued it would be “unconservative”.
The Bill received an unopposed second reading, meaning it will undergo further scrutiny at a later date, but stands a good chance of becoming law.
Ms Rees said: “Shark finning has rightly been banned in the UK since 2003. Although it is also illegal in many other parts of the world, shark finning still happens.
“What we must do now is ensure that shark fins are not being imported from places where finning practices still occur.”
She said her Bill would “make it illegal to import and export detached shark fins” which she said would “help end practices that are forcing sharks closer to the brink of extinction”.
Her proposals contain an exemption provision with a “strict application process” only if the fins “will be used for conservation purposes”.
Speaking in support of the Bill, Conservative MP for Hartlepool Jill Mortimer said: “Banning detached shark fins from being brought into the UK will help protect wild populations of shark species. And that is why I am supporting this Bill today.
“Shark finning is also a uniquely cruel practice, whereby a shark’s fin is sliced off while the shark is still alive and the rest of its body discarded.
“The UK does not support this cruel trade, and it is rightly banned in our waters. But by supporting this Bill, the Government will send out a clear message to those countries that do.”
Shadow environment minister Ruth Jones told the Commons she wants to see the Bill signed into law “as soon as possible”, but noted: “We are here today, but in so many ways we shouldn’t be.
“A ban was announced by ministers almost a year ago, but we are relying on a Private Member’s Bill to deliver a policy set out in the Conservative Party manifesto.
“And it appears that the caretaker Government has adopted a policy of Government by Private Member’s Bill.”
Ms Jones added: “We have now left the European Union. And whilst that does now limit our ability to directly influence a continent-wide ban, a UK ban on imports and exports of shark fins would set an example for our European partners to follow.”
Mr Double said: “Let us be clear, shark finning is a vile and cruel act. Shark fins are recklessly removed from living sharks at sea, and their finless bodies are wastefully returned to the water.
“Without their fins, sharks are unable to swim through the water which means they cannot pass oxygen through their gills, so they are left to slowly drown.
“Shark finning is a practice that has been banned in the UK for almost 20 years. And we also had a ‘fins naturally attached’ policy, which means that sharks must be landed with all of their fins on their bodies.
“But we can now go even further and ban the trade in detached fins in shark fin products.
“This underlines our determination that shark finning must stop wherever it takes place. This Bill has the full support of the Government, and we will do all we can to assist its swift passage through both House and onto the statute books.”