With many shark species facing deep declines across the world's oceans, India has moved to outlaw one of the most pernicious and cruel threats they face.
In an effort to save endangered shark species in the nation's waters, India's Environmental Minister announced new legislation that would make it illegal to possess or sell shark fins. Fishermen found to have harvested shark fins will face tough penalties, including up to seven years in prison.
According to the Times of India, several dozen shark species endemic to surrounding waters are listed as endangered, including hammerheads, whale sharks, and broadfins.
India ranks second in terms of the number of sharks caught each year, after Indonesia, though most are unprotected species sold for local consumption. Since it is not easy to determine if a species is endangered from its fin alone, fishermen found to have finned any shark run the risk of prosecution. Sharks caught for their fins are usually dismembered and returned to the ocean, left to die slowly.
The demand for shark fins comes primarily from China, where it is the prime ingredient for shark fin soup. Last year alone, fishermen in India exported some $4.8 million worth of fins to the Chinese.
Conservationists hope that the measure will help to stabilize declines among shark species at risk of extinction, some of which have been reduced to a mere 10 percent of what they were a few decades ago.