BRUSSELS — The European Union has outlawed the practice of slaughtering sharks for their fins, which are sold to Asia to make soup, according to an official regulation posted Friday.
Much shark meat is of little value as it is considered tough to eat, and the practice of "finning" -- hacking the fins off living sharks and dumping them back in the sea where they die -- has been blamed for pushing some species close to extinction.
"The practice of shark finning may contribute to the excessive mortality of sharks to such an extent that many stocks of sharks are depleted, and their future sustainability may be endangered," the EU said in its Official Journal.
European fishing fleets have become major exporters of fins to Hong Kong, the most significant shark fin market in Asia.
Shark fin soup is frequently served at Chinese wedding banquets as a symbol of generosity and wealth, and as many as 40 sharks can be killed to supply each wedding. In some restaurants in the region, a bowl of the soup can cost $100.
The EU rule will take effect in 60 days.
"Measures to restrict or prevent the further development of the practice of shark finning are urgently required, and the removal of shark fins on board vessels should therefore be prohibited," read the regulation's text.
The regulation applies to EU-registered ships as well as non-EU vessels that operate in EU waters and will prevent them from selling shark fins that are removed on board.
Fishermen will be able to remove the fins if they can prove that they are making efficient use of all shark parts by processing them separately on board, in which case the entire body will have to be accounted for.