Kingston charity leading efforts to sink shark fin imports

A Kingston-based shark and marine conservation charity is driving the push to crack down on the importation of shark fins, and spoke with the Minister of State for Pacific and the Environment on Tuesday.

Zac Goldsmith, former MP for Richmond Park, hosted an online roundtable conference with leading UK conservationists yesterday evening to discuss shark finning and Britain’s role in the industry.

One of the attendees was Kingston-based Graham Buckingham, founder and campaign director of Bite-Back, a charity he formed in 2004 to encourage restaurants and retailers to crack down on selling endangered fish species, with special emphasis on sharks and shark fins.

A key topic of discussion was a loophole in EU law that allows people to import 20 kilograms of shark fins, an unregulated and covert method Bite-Back identified in 2015 and that kickstarted their ‘No Fin to Declare’ campaign.

Buckingham said: “The thing I find engages most people, whether you like sharks or not, is they understand that the same ruling that stops you from bringing more than a litre of gin and 200 cigarettes into the country, is the same one that allows you to bring in 20 kilos of shark fin.

“It’s absurd and people understand that but we seem to have been properly hamstrung by EU rulings.

“The chance to hit that on the head and seize and destroy any shark fins that enter the country through that route would be significant and I’m sure other countries would wake up and think: we need to be doing the same sort of thing.

“It’s the start of an exciting journey.”

Dried shark fins, imported and sold at lucrative prices.
SOME FIN TO SAY: Dried shark fins are imported and sold at lucrative prices
Credit: Bite-Back Shark and Marine Conservation

The UK’s departure from the European Union has given a boost to conservationist’s hopes of constructing more stringent legislation, and Goldsmith’s enthusiasm left Buckingham optimistic.

He said: “It was very much a preliminary meeting and I hope it’s going to be the first of several.

“It was clear that he was engaged and passionate about the topic, and was committed to doing what he could to get as many answers to as many questions as possible so that the right decisions could be made.

“I would have to say from our point of view, his response was very encouraging.”

The conference was a step-forward following a difficult period for conservationist charities, with the Covid-19 pandemic creating acute financial challenges for these organisations.

Buckingham said: “It has made a huge impact. It’s been difficult and we certainly haven’t wanted to appear tone deaf by banging the drum when people are dying.

“It’s only right and sensible that donations and contributions go towards saving people’s lives but I think conservation and animal charities have no doubt suffered.

“But we’re very good at stretching a pound so we’re continuing to do what we’re doing and making some good inroads, and this is another example of us leading the debate and creating breakthroughs.”

Examples of Bite-Back’s breakthroughs included stopping 53 UK restaurants from selling shark fin soup, ASDA discontinuing 100,000 sales of shark yearly, and Iceland removing shark from its exotic meat range.

Celebrity supporters include chefs Gordon Ramsey and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whilst Steve Backshall, TV wildlife presenter best known for BBC’s Deadly 60, is a patron of the charity.

Steve Backshall is a patron of the Bite-Back charity.
AFFISHIONADO: TV presenter Steve Backshall has been the patron of Bite-Back since October 2016 Credit: Bite-Back Shark and Marine Conservation

Speaking about the campaign, Backshall said: “Too often sharks are portrayed as villains.

“But what many people don’t appreciate is that sharks are vital to the health of the oceans and the health of the oceans is vital to life on earth.

“When it comes to protecting sharks, there’s something in it for everyone.”

Those looking to donate to Bite-Back to help fund their campaigns can do so here.

Featured image credit: Bite-Back Shark and Marine Conservation

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