The European Union has taken a step towards controlling the slaughter of sharks for their fins, which are sold to the lucrative Asian market where shark fin soup is a delicacy.

European Parliament members have approved a proposal which will determine how EU vessels may catch and land sharks, in a bid to ensure fishermen do not cut fins off illegally and dump the sharks’ bodies back in the sea. In this process, known as “finning”, the sharks are sometimes still alive when they are thrown back into the sea, reported Reuters.

Apart from the fin, shark meat is of little value because it is considered to be too tough. Fins from some shark species can fetch up to US$15,000 each in China.

The proposed regulation would ban EU-registered vessels, as well as non-EU vessels that operate in EU waters, from landing or selling shark fins that are removed on board.

Fishermen would still be allowed to remove fins if they could prove that they were also using the remaining parts of the shark.

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“The scale of finning internationally appears to be disturbingly high,” said British Liberal Democrat MEP Elspeth Attwooll, who drafted the bill. “At the same time stocks of sharks such as blue shark are declining alarmingly.”

“Today’s vote is the first step on a long road towards ensuring that shark populations do not become extinct. Progress must be swift before it is too late,” she was quoted by Reuters as saying.