It is the most emotional issue in modern fisheries, the finning of live sharks and throwing their finless bodies into the sea. Over the last four months Australian fishermen are being accused of, if not doing the same, then increasing the shark catch for fins.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society, with a membership of marine scientists, took aim at Queensland Fisheries, accusing the government of expanding its shark fishery. The proposal was simply to specifically licence boats that landed shark and further reduce the fleet and shark catch.

In NSW the Nature Conservation Council used variation in couple of years catch figures in to show that fishermen were increasingly targeting sharks. Australia’s total shark catch is around 5000 t pa is less than 0.1 % of an estimated 600,000 t pa world wide shark landings — from the world’s third largest fishing ground. With NSW, catches of all sharks across all fisheries for 2006-07 totalling 236 tonnes they could hardly be portrayed as a threat to any species of shark.

Then the World Wildlife Fund pitched in for sharks too and purchased a document from the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service showing shark fin exports and accusing Australian fishermen of targeting sharks for their fins — but offer no evidence.

All Australian shark fisheries are based on the market for flesh for human consumption — flake.

These exports of fins, cartilage etc are mostly sourced from the processors, especially those in Melbourne where “flake” is from the largest shark fleet. These waste products from filleting that would otherwise be dumped.

The fins and by-products also come from WA, from dusky whaler, gummy and a small whiskery shark fishery. In the Northern Territory the shark fishery is based on black tip sharks — but all the bodies must be landed with fins and every portion of the shark. It is all sold for human consumption or medicinal by-products to the nearby Asian markets.

Environment Groups and some scientists successfully play the media on the whole issue of sharks and shark fishing — but sharks are of many species and only a few are fished.

This concocted threat from “finning” in already capped fisheries is being used to build memberships for local and international conservation groups, justify the excesses of fisheries bureaucracies and generate more research dollars for shark science.

Australian shark catches have been more than halved over the last 20 years with imported shark filling the gap. Sadly the ongoing success of this drive to cut local fisheries also makes what was once a cheap feed, “Flake and Chips”, increasingly expensive.