Hunting shark for their fins is popular in the central coastal province of Binh Dinh because Vietnam has not prohibited the practice.

Some people believe that eating shark fins can cure them of cancer or boost their health and sexual performances.

However, the custom has endangered shark species in coastal waters and may even lead to their local extinction.

The banned practice of catching sharks with deep sea explosives is also leading to their decline.

Fisherman Tran Hoa in Nhon Ly Commune in Quy Nhon City said he had earned nearly 30 million VND (1,400 USD) this month by selling a 300-kg shark. Sixty percent of people in the commune live by deep-sea fishing.

Demand for shark's fin has always been high so many fishermen go out of their way to catch them, said Vo Sy Tuan deputy director of the Oceanographic Institute of Nha Trang.

One trader named Nhanh said she could quickly sell any shark fin. Prices vary depending on whether the fins are fresh or dried.

Fresh fins fetch from 1.9 million VND to 2.5 million VND (90-120 USD) per kilo. One kilogramme of dried, good quality fins sells for between 10 million VND and 15 million VND (470-710 USD). Nhanh said a 100kg shark could provide about 1kilo of fin.

Vietnam Fishery Association secretary Tran Cao Muu said efforts should be made to protect sharks because their numbers were so low.

Deputy chairman of the Nhon Ly Commune People's Committee Nguyen Thanh Danh said one fisherman was prosecuted last year for using explosives to catch seafood.

However, he said the verdict meant little as the commune was short of staff to check fishermen.

Muu said the use of explosives to catch sharks and other species of fish was a threat to sustainability and even the survival of some species, including sharks.

The head of Binh Dinh's Seafood Protection and Exploitation Department, Mai Kim Thi, said it was difficult to control the situation.

She said it was impossible to punish fishermen and traders because shark-fin soup was a culinary delicacy in Vietnam and throughout Asia . It was often served at banquets as a sign of wealth and health.

Housewife Nguyen Diep Ha said her family ate shark fin for health reasons and to prevent cancer.

Deputy director of Hanoi-based Bach Mai Hospital Mai Trong Khoa said shark fins were not among recognised treatments for cancers in Vietnam./.