Sharks include skates, rays and chimaeras. They are killed mainly for their fins and meat although their livers, cartilage and gills are also traded. As per import data between 2009 and 2019 Hong Kong, Singapore and China were the largest importers of fins (the most valuable part of the shark) whereas for shark meat the largest importers were Brazil, Spain, Uruguay and Italy.

Of the 160 species of sharks in Indian waters only 10 are protected. The whale shark (the largest fish in the world and feeds on plankton) was the first to be protected by India.

Worldwide India ranks second (Indonesia is first) in shark fishing. No wonder over half of the shark species found in the Arabian Sea are threatened. However, the catches are decreasing. When deep sea sharks were no longer found in the Maldives (due to over-fishing) India’s west coast began to supply shark liver oil mainly to Japan.

Investigations have revealed that “by-catch” fishing is the primary threat to sharks and rays in India. Sharks are not only killed for their fins as commonly presumed, but for their meat (fresh & dried), leather, cartilage, squalene and shark liver oil (for medicines). Whereas targeted shark fishing is India is only undertaken by one community from Thoothoor, in Kanyakumari district.

Shark Fins

“Finning” is catching, hacking off, and keeping a shark’s fins, and throwing away the amputated living shark’s body back into the water.

Limited space available in fishing boats is used for shark fins rather than shark meat. Fins are only 7% in weight, but 40% in value. Therefore fishermen cut off the fins and discard shark bodies. Unable to swim or breathe without their fins, the profusely bleeding sharks sink to the ocean floor and are eaten alive by other sea creatures.

China, Japan and Singapore are the main markets for shark fins. Shark fin soup, considered a Chinese delicacy, is sold for at least $100 a bowl, and is popularly consumed in Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan. However, sales of shark fin soup in China have been steadily falling since 2014. Due to awareness campaigns shark fin is considered a dying business.

Illegal Export from India

India is one of the major suppliers of shark fins but quantities of shark fins exported from India have not matched the annual catch, thus indicating a flourishing illegal trade. The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) has said that India collects 70,000 tonnes of shark fins and 1 tonne represents 650 dead sharks.


That India illegally exports shark fins was proved even after the ban when 2 tonnes in February 2018 and again 8,000 kgs in September 2018 of shark fins worth Rs 45 crore was seized from the same gang and 4 persons were arrested. The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) raided godowns in Sewri and Veraval (Gujarat) from where consignments were to be dispatched to Singapore and Hong Kong – in fact, a container which had already left for Hong Kong was recalled, and a couple of days later another cargo suspected to contain 4,000 kgs of shark fins offloaded in Malaysia. It was estimated that around 16,000 sharks must have been killed for 8,000 kgs. The kingpin was hiring hunters to net sharks in Chiplun and Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, Harnia in Gujarat and also in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Shark fins have been smuggled out of India labelled as ray skins, dried marine products, or fish maw.

In mid-2011, Traffic (an organisation that monitors global trade in wildlife) stated that indiscriminate shark-fishing in Indian waters to feed markets abroad may be driving the shark to extinction. Also that 18 of the 70 shark species found in India, including the Ganges Shark and Pondicherry Shark, were critically endangered. In 2008 India was on a list of the top 20 shark-catching nations with Indonesia accounting for 13%, India 9%, and Spain 7.3% of the global
catch. In fact, India was ranked as the 2nd largest shark product producer (fins, meat, cartilage, liver oil and skin) in the world between 2000 and 2011. No wonder baby shark curry is a star dish of Goan cuisine.

Given the fact that Bangladesh catches and has many processing centres from where shark, ray and other such products are sold for domestic consumption and international demand, it is quite possible that considerable quantities are smuggled in to Bangladesh from India, particularly after India’s export ban on shark fins in 2015. Products openly processed in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar and Teknaf are dried and fresh meat, skin, vertebrae, jaws, teeth, fins, dried whole fish, intestines, rostrum of sawfish, live and liver oil and gill plates of mobulid rays.

Internationally, an estimated 73 million sharks are killed annually by inhumane “finning”. No wonder, on cruelty grounds 65 countries have passed laws and rules not only banning “finning” but also banning the sale, trading, distribution and possession of shark fins.

In 2014, Etihad Airways and Jet Airways promised not to carry shark fin cargo, whereas the Emirates, Philippines Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Qantas and Air New Zealand had already stopped doing so.

However, in 2019 Customs Officials at Chennai stopped the illegal export of 64 kgs of shark fins worth Rs 32 lakh to Singapore. They were trying to smuggle the fins out in 6 cartons as checked in baggage on a Scoot Airlines flight. (This low-cost airline is a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines.) In a separate case 14 kgs of shark fins were also seized in January 2019 at Chennai airport from a man travelling to Singapore.

Saving Sharks

In 2006 Morari Bapu, the Guru famous for his Ram Kathas, appealed to the Kharwa community to stop catching sharks and they abided by his request. He told them that the sharks migrated to the Arabian Sea to breed just like a daughter came home to give birth. Each year when they visited between January and March, around 250 sharks used to be killed off the coast of Saurashtra by fishermen who modified their boats to carry harpoons weighing 8 to 10 kgs and ropes were tied to empty plastic barrels. The Veraval and Bhidiya harbour used to turn red with their blood. Fins were not the only attraction for these fishermen because export firms would pay them up to Rs 1 lakh for a 40 foot whale shark weighing 8 to 10 tonnes. Liver (from which oil is extracted) and meat was also bought.

Gujarat celebrated its first Whale Shark Day on 25 January 2011 after having until then rescued 240 vhali or whale sharks. Although a decade earlier these creatures were brutally hunted for their liver oil to waterproof boats and their meat was exported, for some years conservation initiatives had been put in place to the extent that the state government provided compensation for the loss of fishing nets up to Rs 25,000/-. Till 2014, a total of 412 whale sharks that got accidentally trapped in fishermen’s nets were rescued by the Gujarat Forest Department with the help of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Wildlife Trust of India and Tata Chemicals.

Selling Openly

Goa, Tamil Nadu, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands also fish sharks and their dried and salted fins and flesh are sold by numerous companies openly on,, etc. Their skin is processed into leather and oil is extracted from their livers. And, to top it off, Taiwanese, Cantonese and similar cuisine restaurants, even in the capital, serve shark fin soup! These facts were all passed on to the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau by BWC in 2014.

In coastal Tamil Nadu baby sharks called sora are sold in local markets as a delicacy.


The Gangetic shark is also threatened due to over-fishing and habitat destruction, dams, barrages and pollution. The specie is different to the bull shark (which is not a true river shark) because it does not need salt water to breed. Although the Gangetic dolphin is famous, sharks exist in this river – sharks are fish, not mammals like dolphins.

Third Time Lucky!

For at least fifteen years BWC periodically wrote to the government that we needed to protect sharks by imposing a ban on fishing, catching, killing, “finning” and consumption of shark products in India and for export. We were therefore glad to have been able to recently influence the Government of India to prohibit the export of shark fins of all species of shark, as well as shark fin import.

An earlier ban imposed in 2001 by the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests was partially lifted following pressure from vested interests. The loop hole for the flourishing illegal export trade in shark fins was that some shark species were allowed, whereas some were banned. Since fishermen did not know the difference, they sold exporters the fins of whichever shark specie they managed to catch.

Again, in August 2013, the Government banned “finning” sharks at sea – they had to be landed (brought ashore) with their fins intact. The Ministry of Environment & Forests declared: “The policy prescribes that any possession of shark fins that are not naturally attached to the body of the shark would amount to “hunting” of a Schedule I species…” Therefore, fishermen found with fins risked a 7-year prison sentence for hunting an endangered species. Again, this attracted a number of objections like the earlier short-lived 2001 blanket ban on catching sharks.

However, the February 2015 ruling on export of shark fins now covers all species of shark. The illegal trade also needs to be clamped down upon (in 2017 CMFRI stated that sawfish – that are facing extinction – were also hunted for the fin trade). Despite selling shark fins, salted and dried shark meat, and also shark liver oil to pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, the Seafood Exporters Association of India urged the government to lift the ban on shark fins by falsely claiming sharks to be a by-catch.

Within India the consumption of shark fins has never been high, so let's hope the import ban will make shark fin soup disappear from high-end restaurant menus in India; and a restaurant in Goa will not think of holding another shark meat festival.

Interestingly, a 2024 survey report of restaurants in 10 coastal states found that they were offering shark meat under the guise of local cuisine traditionally consumed by coastal communities but due to a steady rise in price had started to go in for ray meat. Shark meat, typically “baby shark” featured on restaurant menus mostly in the states of Goa, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra and the biggest demand was from foreign tourists. When questioned, most restaurants felt removing shark meat from their menus wouldn’t significantly affect their profits. They were hardly interested in the ecological implications of serving shark meat, but showed concern when told about high heavy metal levels existing in shark meat which could very well result in adverse reactions to those who ate it.

Page last updated on 29/01/24