The shark is caught alive and whole. Within minutes, it is severed of its fins and thrown back into the ocean. Unable to swim, the shark sinks towards the bottom and is left to bleed to death or fall prey to other fishes. This method is known as finning. A highly calculated act to maximize profits no doubt but it is also a practice that is highly inhumane.
We seldom spare a thought for sharks and when we do, what comes to mind is Steven Spielberg’s vision of a shark terrorizing a coastal town, looking for its next meal. In reality, however, the reverse is true. The situation is dire for sharks as they are being emptied out of our oceans and into bowls of soup at an alarming rate. Sharks have roamed the oceans for the past 450 million years since the dinosaurs, and now there is a strong possibility that they might completely disappear in the near future.
It is not uncommon to find shark’s fin soup on the menu in restaurants across Asia. A dish guaranteed to bring in the profits; it is dish that will continue to stay on the menu as long as there is a demand for it. As China’s economy surges, this demand is set to grow exponentially as the level of disposal income for the average Chinese increase. Given the sharks’ low reproduction rate and their slow maturity rate, the extinction of sharks is a very real possibility.
The problem of overfishing presents itself as one of most pressing issues today and while modern technology has allowed for bigger fishing vessels and better nets, the expected bigger returns are not realized. In 2006, The BBC reported that the total amount of fish caught globally has decreased by 13% from 1994 to 2003 and put forth a bold prediction that seafood would be off the menus within the next 50 years.
While many governments over the world are working to set up regulations against overfishing for commercial fishes such as tuna and salmon, there are no catch limits being put forth towards protecting sharks. As the supply for these commercial fishes dwindle, fisheries and consumers have taken to targeting sharks as an alternative source.
Current regulations state that sharks should not be just killed for their fins and but should be fully utilized and a number of individual countries have went on further to ban the act of finning. However, it is the enforcement of such regulations that prove to be extremely tricky out in the ocean that seemingly presents itself as a free-for-all game. Institutions such as Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherds may have tried to stop these rogue fishing expeditions, but the only clear way to end such fishing practices lie in the hands of the consumers.
Consumers today have little understanding of where their bowl of shark’s fin soup originates and are generally unaware if the sharks are being caught through illegally or unsustainable means. What is more surprising however, is what shark’s fin is used for. The fins itself have no taste in themselves are used merely to add texture to the soup. While it is the fin that lends the soup its name, it is a very possible that it can be removed altogether.
In Hong Kong, after fierce criticism from conservationists, the Walt Disney Company, creator of the film “Finding Nemo” with the tagline: “fish are friends, not food” bowed to pressure and removed shark’s fin soup from the menu in the Hong Kong Disneyland theme park. On the local front, there is an increasing number of newlyweds who have decided not to serve shark’s fin soup as part of their traditional wedding dinner. These actions towards the preservation of sharks though rudimentary, are vital and present a small glimmer of hope that change is imminent.
It is more than just preventing of the extinction of sharks. The survival of sharks is key to maintaining the marine ecosystem. A system that is highly volatile, a rapid decimation of sharks will destabilize the fragile balance. It is unsurprising that reports are beginning to reveal that scallops are declining, as fishes that prey on these shellfish are unchecked. Sharks also provide an important revenue source for the dive tourism industry around the world.
In the 2007 Wild Aid Report for sharks, sharks were identified as “likely to be in the first round of marine extinctions caused by human activity.” 50 years on, as hard as it may be to predict what the world would be like then, it is definitely without a doubt that should the demand for shark increase, sharks will join their prehistoric counterparts, the dinosaurs.
What you can do:
– Find out more about sharks
– Share this information with a friend or a family member.
– When the buying stops, so will the killing. Avoid shark-related products.
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