This article about sharks vs fin soup was originally written exactly 10 years ago today. Back then we thought that the trade in shark fins would be stopped but it hasn’t and the problem is as big now as it was then.
Steven Spielberg is responsible, in some way, for our attitude toward sharks. There’s no denying that Jaws is a fantastic movie with probably the most memorable soundtrack in history, but it really didn’t do much for human-shark relations.
Despite this tainted view of sharks as man-eaters it’s humans that do most of the eating. Approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year by us, we are the predators that poach from the oceans and pose the gravest threat to these magnificent creatures.
There are more than 400 species of sharks. Yet, according to the Oceans Future Society, more than 120 were currently listed as threatened or endangered.
Humans are killing roughly 11,000 sharks every hour of every day. Yes, you read that right – eleven thousand – every hour.
The result is, quite simply, devastating and the implications enormous. As apex predators, sharks play an important role in maintaining the health of the ocean’s ecosystem.
Serious decline in their numbers affect many other species, and there is clear evidence that some fish stocks have collapsed because of a reduction in shark numbers. Certain species of sharks have already plummeted by as much as 80% in the past decade, and are well on their way to becoming extinct within the next 10 years.
The short and almost unbelievable answer is soup. The driving forces? Human vanity and greed.
Whilst accidental catching in fishing nets accounts for some shark deaths, sharks are being systematically targeted and killed in huge numbers for their fins. They are used to make shark fin soup; a delicacy in China.
The Chinese mistakenly and astoundingly, for an intelligent nation, believe that consuming sharks and rays helps to prevent cancer. The reasoning being that cartilaginous fishes don’t suffer from cancer.
Shark fin soup is also traditionally served as a symbol of wealth. As the country’s wealthy population has increased, so has the demand for shark fins. This demand has spurred a rise in the hideous practice of shark finning — when fishermen cut off the fins, then throw the shark back into the water to drown or bleed to death.
The fishermen can earn big bucks for fins and the Asian indulgers will pay a handsome rate for what’s deemed a status menu item. The numbers of some shark species are falling so fast that many countries are joining the fight to protect these beautiful creatures, including the United States, which have banned shark finning in their territorial waters.
But enforcement of shark finning bans will always be a problem whilst profits remain so high. A single basking shark fin, for example, can fetch $6,000 USD or more.
Some technological advancements are helping. Genetic tests are available to help experts crack down on the illegal trade in sharks fins. Small bits of fish flesh can be removed from aboard ships or on docks to test to see whether they are protected sharks, and severe fines can be levied. For example, a DNA test can now identify the flesh of a Great White, which is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
But this doesn’t save the sharks that have already been killed and they remain under-protected in many parts of the world ocean. Populations continue to decline at an alarming rate.
Sharks simply cannot keep up with this onslaught without our protection and help. They have a slow growth rate, late maturity, low reproduction rates, and one of the longest gestation periods of any animal (up to 22 months). They cannot replenish themselves as quickly as we are killing them off.
Ultimately, only public awareness and education will save the planet’s sharks. There are some some great campaigns that we can support, but our shouts need to be loud and consistent if we are ever to eradicate the practice of shark finning.
So, maybe it’s shark fin soup that needs to be outlawed? Or maybe the restaurants that serve it and the people that eat it should be punished?
As scuba divers we need to step up as guardians of our oceans and spread the word. For anyone that has ever been lucky enough to have dived with sharks on a scuba diving holiday, you understand what amazing animals they really are.
They’ve been in our oceans for millions of years. Let’s keep it that way. What do you think should be done to save our beautiful sharks?
As I said this sharks vs fin soup article was originally published 10 years ago today. Amazingly shark fin soup is still on the menu despite huge efforts by many groups. But the tide is perhaps turning as shark finning is banned in 27 countries and the European Union as there is ever increasing pressure to protect the worlds oceans.
If you’d like to see sharks in the wild here are the best places to scuba dive with sharks around the world.