European Union nations on Monday backed a complete ban on the practice of removing sharks' fins before throwing the fish back into the sea to die.
The EU nations said they want all boats in their waters and EU-registered boats anywhere in the world to land sharks with their fins attached. The proposals still need the support of the European Parliament before they can become law.
EU fisheries chief Maria Damanaki said the law would "ease control and help us eradicate shark finning," which she called cruel to the animals and a vast waste of resources.
Sharks are vulnerable to over-exploitation because they mature late and give birth to small numbers of young at a time. Shark fins are in high demand in Asia for soup and alleged cures. Damanaki said some 75 million sharks a year are killed for the use of their fins only, with the EU being the biggest exporter.
As a result, the hammerhead shark is as good as extinct in the Mediterranean Sea.
Under current rules, the EU still has exemptions and special permits for the practice, and the enforcement is so convoluted it is prone to fraud. Damanaki has compared shark finning to killing elephants for their tusks only.
The measures to better protect endangered sharks are part of an overall EU policy to promote sustainable fisheries after decades of overfishing have brought many popular species in the Atlantic and Mediterranean to the brink of commercial extinction.
The meeting of the 27 fisheries ministers also sought support for a ban on the practice of discarding fish back into sea because they fail to meet qualifications or are commercially undesirable.
The European Commission says up to half the whitefish and 70 percent of the flatfish caught by fisheries are thrown overboard again.
Damanaki and several member states want a wholesale ban on the practice but have been struggling to get everybody on board. France and Spain are said to be opposing a full ban.
"I'm worried that some countries may want to go slowly while others go fast," said British Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead. "Hopefully common sense will prevail."