Federal authorities in Brazil seized more than 63,200 pounds (28,700 kilograms) of shark fins on Monday (June 19) in what may be the world's largest-ever confiscations of illegal shark fins, according to officials at Ibama, a federal agency under Brazil's Ministry of the Environment.
Shark finning is the practice of cutting off a live shark's fin and, usually, throwing the rest of the shark back into the ocean. These fins are sold mostly to Asian countries, where they are used in traditional Chinese medicine or served as a delicacy in shark fin soup, and can fetch up to $591 per kilogram ($1,313 per pound) in the market. Though shark fishing is currently banned across Brazil, some fishers still illegally catch these apex predators in certain areas, Ibama officials said.
"This practice is already recurrent in Brazil," Jair Schmitt, director of Ibama, told Reuters. "We had some years ago the finding of about seven or eight metric tons [8 to 9 tons] of shark, seized in Para state, with a similar method of finning," meaning that the rest of the shark was thrown back into the ocean.
Roughly 10,000 sharks — predominantly blue sharks (Prionace glauca) and shortfin makos (Isurus oxyrinchus) — were likely killed to amass the fins seized in the most recent bust, Ibama officials estimate. The shortfin mako shark is considered endangered, according to the IUCN.
More than 95% of the fins were seized from a single, unnamed exporting company located in Santa Catarina, along the southern coast of Brazil, while the rest were confiscated from another unnamed company operating out of the São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport, according to an Ibama statement.
"Ibama has monitored the trade and export of shark fins and we have identified the volume, the large amount of these fins being marketed, mainly to Asia, which is the main consumer market," Schmitt said in the statement translated from Portuguese.
The shark fin export market extends beyond Brazil; by some estimates, roughly 73 million sharks are killed around the world for their fins each year. In December 2022, the Biden Administration signed into law a bill that will ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States.
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Kiley Price is a Live Science staff writer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Slate, Mongabay and more. She holds a bachelor's degree from Wake Forest University, where she studied biology and journalism, and is pursuing a master's degree at New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program.