NEW DELHI -- India has banned hunting sharks for only their fins in a move to protect endangered species swimming near its shores from indiscriminate hunting.

The practice of shark "finning," or slicing off a shark's fins and throwing it back to die slowly on the ocean floor, has exploded worldwide thanks to demand from China, where shark fin soup is considered a delicacy.

India is one of the world's largest shark-catching nations, with several of the species in its waters endangered.

The Environment Ministry says fishermen now found with hauls including detatched fins risk up to seven years in prison for hunting an endangered species.

Conservationists have applauded the ministry's move as key to ending a cruel practice threatening some sharks with extinction.