Written by Kaylee Allen
WARNING, INCLUDES GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS AND IMAGES.
Do you imagine sharks as cold-blooded killers, or the prey? Most people believe the former and do not consider the latter as an option. The common misconception of sharks as blood-thirsty killers generated by pop culture--Jaws and Sharknado--drives the inconceivability of their status as humans’ prey.
Regardless of whether someone perceives a shark in the previously mentioned way, this fact remains: sharks are vital to the oceans’ ecosystems by keeping prey populations in check.
So, what happens when sharks become prey to humans? In biology, sharks are referred to as keystone species meaning that if they die, their entire ecosystem becomes unbalanced and in danger. As 100 million sharks become prey to humans, oceanic ecosystems fall into increasing danger. These sharks are killed with only one purpose: to remove their fins.
Taken from Shark Research Institute, 2020
Fisherpeople catch sharks with fishing lines attached with baited hooks at regular intervals. Then they conduct the practice of shark finning, the removal of a shark’s fins, while it is fully conscious. As shark meat holds little value to the fisherpeople, the sharks are released back into the ocean and left to drown.
Taken from Wikipedia, 2013
Due to the shark finning industry’s enormous profitability—multi-billion dollars—governments around the world are unwilling to enact restrictions against it. A pound of shark fin can sell for more than $300. Throughout Asia, shark fins are used in the widely popular shark fin soup. However, shark fins are relatively tasteless and are mainly used for their texture and their impression as luxurious items.
Taken from the Smithsonian, 2013
China, as the world’s largest shark fin importer, helps set the tone the rest of the world will follow regarding shark fin trade regulations. Its sale and consumption are legal in China but fins from endangered sharks must have a permit. China’s shark industry suffers from a lack of liability since illegal trading is rarely prosecuted.
Despite growing public disapproval with shark fins, shark fin soup is still common throughout Asia and the rest of the world. As more people become aware of the unethical practice of shark finning, the more pressure they put on restaurants and governments to enact change. This is evident by the fact that “shark fin consumption has fallen by more than 80% in China.”
Opponents of shark fin regulation believe it is not the practice of shark finning that is causing the decline in shark populations but instead overfishing. Fisherpeople cannot financially sustain their business if shark finning were to be illegalized, causing conflict between themselves and shark activists. However, they cannot financially sustain themselves if sharks go extinct.
“Shark populations have decreased by 60 to 90 percent in just the last 15 years because of shark fin trade” (One Green Planet). The shark fin trade is causing the overfishing of sharks that the fisherpeople blame on the decline of shark populations.
The shark fin trade is still prevalent throughout the rest of the world, not just Asia. It unquestionably exists in the United States. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has estimated that in 2007, over 1,000 tons of shark fins were imported into the US. However, the United States estimates remain much lower due to lack of oversight. The US Congress has passed bills requiring shark fins to be attached to the shark when brought ashore. This lessens the amount of sharks killed per fishing trip. However, despite these regulations, “from 2010 to 2017, the United States unintentionally played middleman to somewhere between 650 and 772 tons of shark fin exports,” which is about 1.29 million sharks (NRDC). This is due to the shark fins being exempt from special port inspection since these products categorize as seafood unless they are listed under either CITES or the Endangered Species Act.
Change regarding the shark fin trade is inevitable. Either because of the morality of leaving sharks to die in the ocean without their fins or the simple fact of the decreasing shark population, public outrage is resulting in less shark fin products being used.
But is the change too gradual? Is protecting the lives of sharks more important than protecting countries’ economies? This is what politicians ask themselves as they debate new laws regarding shark fin regulations. This is what fisherpeople worry about when considering the future of the shark fin trade. This is what you must consider.
https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/surprise-middleman-illegal-shark-fin-trade-united-states Cover Picture: https://ocean.si.edu/sites/default/files/styles/article_main_image/public/ROTMAN_N13VZweb_1.jpg?itok=sBQWGoNI