Controversy ... shark fins are regarded as a delicacy in some parts of the world.

Controversy ... shark fins are regarded as a delicacy in some parts of the world. Photo: AP/NICK UT

Yesterday it was the ruling Chinese State Council. Today it's Singapore's Environment Ministry. Others will follow tomorrow.

Suddenly shark fin soup looks like it's going the way of smoking, and Australian regulators are way behind the shift.

In the Ming dynasty 400 years ago, it little troubled either the shark population or the animal welfare standards of the time to serve up the aristocrats' dish as treasured food from the sea.

Today some shark species are collapsing under the pressure for fin among the growing number of wealthy Chinese people around the world.

Such is the demand that many sharks are caught, finned alive and thrown back by fishers, either unwilling or unable to process the rest of the fish. It's this cruel practice that gives the soup a bad name.

In California the sale of shark fin is now outlawed. So too in three other states of the US.

Vancouver – a target for wealthy Asian immigrants and a near proxy for Australia's cities – is debating a ban as a step forward in Chinese-Canadian relations.

In Australia few are yet suggesting a ban on the sale of fin. High-value exports would make that a challenging proposition. There also may be a more relaxed approach to culinary diversity too, for the growing population of Chinese-Australians.

But the least we can do is get a tighter grip on the fin sold here or exported.

As fishers and conservationists point out, governments know too little about either the fin consumed in Australia, or that is sold in our name.

Campaigners against finning argue that Australian restaurants are much more likely to buy cheaper imported fin but no specific track is kept of fin imports, according to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

DAFF said shark fin, and other products from dead elasmobranch species (sharks, skates and rays) for human consumption could be brought into Australia without a permit. "An importer must provide documentation that verifies the species of fish."

At least 178 tonnes of fin from tens of thousands of sharks were exported last year, according to federal government data obtained by Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Patchwork laws mean that Commonwealth, Victorian or NSW fishers must land sharks with their fins on, to prevent live finning. But other states and the Northern Territory are allowed to land a "ratio" of fins to carcasses.

Such is the bad name of sharks, and of some Australians, that appalling treatment can still be meted out to these fish.

Every day it is driven home to Australian food exporters that reputation is everything. Open traceability is increasingly a marketing necessity. If we are going to be in the shark fin business, we need to be accountable.