The Shark Alliance is a not-for-profit coalition of non-governmental organizations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving European fishing policy.
European Union Closes Loopholes in Shark Finning Ban
06 June 2013
BRUSSELS - The EU Council of Ministers today formally adopted a strengthened EU ban on shark finning, the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea.
The need to strengthen the 2003 EU finning ban has been debated for years. The European Commission issued a proposal in November 2011 to require that fins be left naturally attached to all sharks brought to port. In November 2012, the European Parliament voted 566-47 in favour of the related report. Today, the Council of Ministers accepted the text agreed with Parliament, confirming the position fisheries ministers adopted in March 2012, and concluding the process to establish a new EU regulation.
The Shark Alliance, which has been campaigning on this issue for years, congratulates EU fisheries ministers, the European Parliament, and the European Commission for achieving an agreement that finally closes all loopholes in the EU finning ban, and thanks the many groups and individuals who worked for such an outcome.
The regulation will come into force seven days after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.
Background: The EU banned finning in 2003, but the associated regulation included an exception under which fishermen with permits could remove shark fins on board vessels and then land them separately from the bodies, with compliance monitored through a complicated process of measuring and comparing the weights of the fins with the weight of the whole shark, leaving significant room for undetected finning. Prohibiting at-sea removal of shark fins, and thereby requiring that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached, is widely regarded as the most reliable means for implementing a finning ban. The fins-naturally-attached strategy also allows for improved, species-specific landing data, which are essential for population assessment and fisheries management. The Shark Alliance is a coalition of more than 130 organisations dedicated to science-based shark conservation. The Shark Alliance was initiated and is coordinated by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Bradnee Chambers, executive secretary of the United Nations Environment ProgrammeConvention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, contributed this article toLiveScience'sExpert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
At the end of last year, representatives from the U.S., the European Union and more than 30 other nations met in the Tasmanian city of Hobart, Australia. It was the thirty-second meeting of a commission tasked with protecting Antarctica's lifefrom risks to the continent's nearly pristine ecosystems.
The nations, members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), were following through on obligations from the international treaty that established the commission in 1982 to conserve the marine animals of Antarctica, and in particular, its krill resources.
Krill is especially abundant in the global food web, and as a result, scientists estimate that three-quarters of all marine life is maintained by the nutrient-rich waters from Antarctica's Southern Ocean.
At the Hobart conference, the commission's member states discussed establishing two international marine protected areas in Antarctica, which would have been the world's largest. Each would have exceeded 1 million square kilometres (620,000 square miles). The Ross Sea and Eastern Antarctic zones would have doubled the area of fully protected ocean covered as marine protected areas to two per cent of the world's oceans, with a surface five times the size of France.
However, the negotiations failed, once again, because member states could not reach consensus. However, some delegates were confident that enough progress was made to achieve a breakthrough at the next meeting at the end of 2014.
Why are Antarctic marine protected areas so important? The Pew Environment Group states that the region is vital to sustaining the majority of the planet's marine life. Marine protected areas have proved to be effective in revitalizingthe health of aquatic life not only in the reserves themselves but also in adjacent waters, such as in the Leigh Marine Reserve in New Zealand where productive fish stocks inside the reserve have migrated into the surrounding waters and increased densities. In addition, protecting Antarctic waters could help mitigate the impact of climate change on the marine environment by building resilience for ecosystems.
China has banned shark fin soup and bird’s nest soup from official banquets, a move that’s meant to cut back on extravagances in government spending but that could have significant environmental benefits.
The ban is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crack-down on corruption and lavish spending in the Chinese government, and also stipulates that cigarettes and expensive liquors are prohibited from official dinners. But the ban on shark fin soup, in particular, comes a year after the country pledged to ban the soup from official banquets and after several years of outcry from within China and throughout the world over the cruelty and grave environmental consequences of the dish.
“It’s a commendable decision and a brave one that the Chinese government has taken,” Alex Hofford, executive director of Hong Kong-based MyOcean, told Agence France-Presse. “It’s going to have a great impact on society, because what the government does shows leadership in society and then the corporate sector will quickly follow suit.”
According to conservation group WildAid, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year solely so that their fins can be sold for shark fin soup, 95 percent of which is consumed in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As recently as 2006, as the Washington Post reports, many Chinese citizens didn’t even know the soup came from sharks — 80 percent, according to one poll, were unaware of the origin of the soup’s key ingredient.
But after WildAid launched a campaign in the country against the soup, using celebrities such as Chinese professional basketball player Yao Ming to speak out against the harm the soup causes shark populations and the oceans overall, the tide began turning in China. In January 2012, luxury hotel chain Shangri-La Asia announced it would ban shark fin soup from all 72 of its hotels. Several high-end restaurants and hotels have followed suit, and in September, Hong Kong announced a ban on shark fin soup (as well as the increasingly rare bluefin tuna and black moss) at government functions.
Far from all restaurants and hotels in China have banned the soup, but overall demand hasdropped off in recent years. This is good news for sharks, whose populations have been decimated by the shark finning trade, a fishing practice that is considered one of the cruelest and most wasteful, as fins are often cut off from live sharks, who are then thrown back into the ocean to die. Some shark populations have declined by 98 percent in the last 15 years due to finning, and all 14 species most commonly caught for their fins are now at risk of extinction. As a top marine predator, their drastic drops in numbers put considerable stress on an ocean ecosystem already at major risk from acidification and over-fishing.
The frightening reality is, like them or not, sharks play a crucial role on this Planet. Remove sharks from the oceans and we are tampering with our primary food and air sources.
Sharks keep our largest and most important ecosystem healthy. Our existence, in part, is dependent upon theirs. Sharks have sat atop the oceans’ food chain, keeping our seas healthy for 450 million years. They are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world with food, produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s manmade carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), and controls our Planet’s temperature and weather.
The shark’s critical role
As the apex predators of the oceans, the role of sharks is to keep other marine life in healthy balance and to regulate the oceans. Remove sharks and that balance is seriously upset. Studies are already indicating that regional elimination of sharks can cause disastrous effects including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs.
A world without sharks?
One study in the U.S. indicates that the elimination of sharks resulted in the destruction of the shellfish industry in waters off the mid-Atlantic states of the United States, due to the unchecked population growth of cow-nose rays, whose mainstay is scallops. Other studies in Belize have shown reef systems falling into extreme decline when the sharks have been overfished, destroying an entire ecosystem. The downstream effects are frightening: the spike in grouper population (thanks to the elimination of sharks) resulted in a decimation of the parrotfish population, who could no longer perform their important role: keeping the coral algae-free.
We don't hear how the elimination of sharks might impact our best natural defense against global warming. Or how our favorite foods might disappear as a side effect of the extinction of sharks. Or that we could lose more oxygen than is produced by all the trees and jungles in the world combined if we lose our sharks. But we should.
If you care about Climate Change, you should care about the sharks.
No one knows for sure what will happen globally if shark populations are destroyed, but one should fear the results. Two hundred and fifty million years ago, this Planet suffered the largest mass extinction on record, and scientists believe this was caused in part by catastrophic changes in the ocean. Sharks play a keystone role ensuring our seas remain in a healthy equilibrium and do not reach that point again.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - Protecting oceans around the world.
While shark finning is contrary to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's International Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, as mentioned above, these are not legal requirements – merely recommendations – and thus cannot be enforced.
Each country with a coastline is responsible for laws and regulations pertaining to fishing in their waters – within their territorial area and within a lesser extent, their exclusive economic zones. And, a number of countries have varying degrees of shark-finning legislation.
In some cases, only whole sharks may be landed. In other cases, amounts are banned by a rule that a vessel may not land shark fins that weigh more than 5 percent of the "dressed" weight of the sharks: that is, the weight of the carcass after the removal of the head and innards.
65 countries have banned finning – many more need to be encouraged to enact legislation.
Countries/Regions with Shark Finning Regulations:
American Samoa Argentina Australia (most States & Territories) Brazil Canada Cape Verde Colombia Costa Rica Ecuador Egypt El Salvador
European Union India Mexico Namibia Nicaragua Oman Panama Seychelles (foreign vessels only) South Africa (in national waters only) Spain United States
Many of these regulations are weak – or are open to interpretation – and are being exploited. The following countries have stronger legislation, requiring shark fins to be partially or fully attached to the shark carcass in some or all of their fisheries:
Brazil Colombia Costa Rica El Salvador Panama United Kingdom
And, all of the above laws prohibit the act of shark finning – not shark fishing. At this point, banning shark finning alone does not solve the problem, as sharks are still being fished at unsustainable rates. Often when laws are created, shark finning still continues. What is needed is a ban on shark fishing, not just a ban on shark finning.
The largely un-policed international seas represent another issue. Thanks to shortage of resources, many countries, particularly those economically challenged like Columbia, Ecuador, and Oman, that do have shark finning regulations don't aggressively police their waters – or chose to turn a blind eye. Meanwhile ships from wealthier shipping fleets from across the world plunder their last remaining sharks. Clearly, we cannot rely on the laws alone.
Sadly, it isn't just shark finning. The world is battling with Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing globally across all species. Costing the world between $4 – $9 billion a year, not to mention the high price of species extinction and ecosystem destruction, IUU fishing accounts for 30 – 40% of the global catch. This is devastating for the oceans and for the planet, particularly to some of the poorest countries in the world where dependency on fishing is a critical part of survival.
Fins from all over the world for sale at a distributor. Photo: Julie Andersen, sharkangels.comIn Mozambique alone, it is anticipated IUU fishing accounts for $40 million a year in lost income. With 80% of Mozambicans living below the poverty level, it isn't surprising that shark finning is running rampant. Fins from a single shark can fetch up to US$120, a few months' income, paid by some savvy businessmen from Hong Kong who also provide the gear. Consider a small dugout boat can land as many as 1,000 sharks a year and you realize the extent of the problem. The word is out. Shark fins mean big money and fishermen everywhere, desperate to feed their families, are heeding the call.
Education - Shark Finning FactsWhat is Shark Finning?Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins and the discard at sea of the carcass. The shark is most often still alive when it is tossed back into the water. Unable to swim, the shark slowly sinks toward the bottom where it is eaten alive by other fish.Shark finning takes place at sea so the fishers have only the fins to transport. Shark meat is considered low value and therefore not worth the cost of transporting the bulky shark bodies to market.Any shark is taken-regardless of age, size, or species.Longlines, used in shark finning operations, are the most significant cause of losses in shark populations worldwide.Shark finning is widespread, and largely unmanaged and unmonitored.Shark finning has increased over the past decade due to the increasing demand for shark fins (for shark fin soup and traditional cures), improved fishing technology, and improved market economics.Shark specialists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, annually.One pound of dried shark fin can retail for $300 or more. It's a multi-billion dollar industry.Impacts of Shark FinningLoss and devastation of shark populations around the world. Experts estimate that within a decade, most species of sharks will be lost because of longlining.Unsustainable fishery. The massive quantity of sharks harvested and lack of selection deplete shark populations faster than their reproductive abilities can replenish populations.Threatens the stability of marine ecosystems.Loss of sharks as a food staple for many developing countries.Local waters are invaded by large industrial, foreign fishing vessels that threaten traditional sustainable fisheries.Threatens socio-economically important recreational fisheries.Obstructs the collection of species-specific data that are essential for monitoring catches and implementing sustainable fisheries management.Wasteful of protein and other shark-based products. Up to 99 per cent of the shark is thrown away.Are there laws against shark finning?Each country with a coastline is responsible for laws and regulations pertaining to fishing in their waters.A number of countries have shark-finning legislation. Many stipulate that fins must arrive in a 5 per cent weight ratio of the shark carcasses onboard. Only a few countries demand that sharks arrive in port with fins attached.According to the IUCN Shark Specialist group, the easiest way to implement a ban is to require that shark carcasses be landed with fins attached. The possession of fins alone on vessels would thus be illegal.Shark finning violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.Shark finning is contrary to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's International Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.The United Nations Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) lists the whale shark, basking shark, and great white shark as species that could become threatened if trade is not controlled. To date, 169 countries have agreed to be legally bound by CITES.Websites about sharks and shark finning:Sea Shepherd Conservation SocietyWildAidShark TrustShark ProjectThe Florida Museum of Natural History/ American Elasmobranch Society/ International Shark Attack FileReefQuest Centre for Shark ResearchSources:
IUCN Shark Specialist Group. "IUCN Information Paper. Shark Finning." 2003. IUCN Shark Specialist Group. "Shark Specialist Group Finning Statement." Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - www.seashepherd.org. "Longline Fishing." WildAid & Co-Habitat. "Shark Finning." September 2003.
Sydney (AFP) Sept 19, 2013 - Scientists studying reefs off Australia said Thursday sharks play a fundamental role in the health of coral, and overfishing of them made reefs more vulnerable to global warming and weather disasters.
Sharks can roam rivers, not soup bowl Tribune-Review That's a practice in which poachers apparently lure sharks into their boats with the offer of a potential modeling career, savagely remove their fins and then toss the animals back into the water.
Find out about shark finning and how you can help to end it.
Every year tens of millions of sharks die a slow death because of finning. Finning is the inhumane practice of hacking off the shark’s fins and throwing its still living body back into the sea. The sharks either starve to death, are eaten alive by other fish, or drown (if they are not in constant movement their gills cannot extract oxygen from the water). Shark fins are being “harvested” in ever greater numbers to feed the growing demand for shark fin soup, an Asian “delicacy”.
BANGKOK, Thailand — More auspicious than delicious, shark fin is rubbery in both taste and texture. While its flavor is muted, a bowl of shark fin soup says plenty in traditional Chinese culture: The hosts have money and they’re generous enough to spread it around.
But in Asia, the soup’s culinary home turf, the dish is increasingly regarded as, well, tasteless. Anti-finning advocates, armed with gruesome facts about threatened shark species, are attacking shark fin’s reputation as a status-boosting delicacy. Their mission: to see the culinary tradition die off before the sharks do.
“These shark fin restaurants are everywhere in Asia,” said Iris Ho, a campaign manager with Humane Society International. “But the issue has picked up speed because people more easily come into contact with shark fin soup than, say, tiger bone wine or rhino horns. Not eating it is a choice they can easily make.”
To many elders within China and the Chinese diaspora, a wedding without shark fin soup is like a New Year’s party without champagne. To some, the dish is so integral to business outings and big-ticket banquets that its absence suggests a snub toward guests. Even non-Chinese in Southeast Asia’s business classes have embraced the soup for its status-boosting properties.
“It’s a menu for emperors. They say it brings you luck,” said Jirayu Ekkul, coordinator of the Bangkok-based Love Wildlife Foundation. “I’ve seen plenty of weddings where, even though they’re not Chinese, they feel they have to have it.”
But the anti-finning camp is buoyed by a slew of major victories. Basketball star Yao Ming, celebrity royalty in China, has publicly urged China’s government to ban shark fin consumption. Last year, China’s Communist Party vowed to phase out shark fin soup from official functions. Taiwan, the fourth-largest shark fin market, has legally forbidden fishermen from sawing off shark fins and dumping the carcass overboard. The same rule applies to boatmen in European Union waters.
More from GlobalPost: Can Costa Rica save the sharks?
State-controlled media outlet The People’s Daily, seen as a window into Party-line thought, backed the ban and lamented the deaths of endangered sharks. Both wildlife groups and China’s own officialdom contend that 95 percent of shark fin consumption takes place in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. But Hong Kong is the true hub with more than 22 million pounds of shark fin products imported into the city each year, according to Hong Kong government figures.
Shark fin is singled as particularly destructive because fishermen often hack off sharks’ fins and wastefully chuck their carcasses into the sea. Unable to properly maneuver without fins, the sharks bleed out and sink to the ocean floor.
The latest research into endangered shark populations, recently published in the journal Marine Policy, contends that a whopping 100 million, and perhaps up to 273 million, are killed each year. At this clip, several sought-after species — the scalloped hammerhead, the porbeagle and the oceanic whitetip — may not be able to reproduce fast enough to stave off extinction.
The premier international body regulating the wildlife trade, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna or CITES, meets in Bangkok this month to decide whether to more tightly regulate their catch and sale.
The resistance comes from Japan, a primary catcher of sharks and China, the primary consumer. Both nations have a vote in CITES and diplomatic sway over their trading partners, said Susan Lieberman, deputy director of international policy for the Washington, DC-based Pew Charitable Trusts.
“Countries, particularly in East Asia, have not supported protection for sharks,” she said. “The science is unquestionable. If there were a land species with as much data and information as sharks, and depleted as fast as sharks, they would’ve been listed a long time ago.”
Popular sentiment on shark fin soup is difficult to gauge. But according to a 2010 survey conducted by Bloom, a nonprofit devoted to ocean preservation, three-fourths of people in major fin soup market Hong Kong would “accept a wedding banquet menu that does not include shark fin soup.” Still, the same share of respondents, roughly 75 percent, had eaten the soup in the previous 12 months.
In less-prosperous mainland China, the survey found that fewer than one in five citizens had ever eaten the soup in their entire lives. Depending on the eatery and the portion size, a serving can cost between $65 and $200.
Among shark preservationists, the consensus is that eroding the market for shark fin soup in cosmopolitan Hong Kong or Taiwan may be possible. But in increasingly prosperous China, newly rich mainlanders with an appetite for the dish could offset these gains.
“For a lot of these wildlife products, China is the biggest market,” Ho said. “That’s why it’s key to have public education campaigns. There’s so much demand.”
More from GlobalPost: Japanese turn against whaling
In Bangkok, known as a city offering shark fin soup on the cheap, Jirayu and his fellow anti-finning activists have started pressuring hotel chains to pull the soup from their menus. A confrontational name-and-shame campaign is a last resort, said Jirayu, who expects quiet cajoling to prove more effective in face-conscious Thailand.
“Older people are the ones who really want to eat shark fins,” he said. “With the elderly, it’s hard to change their minds. But with the new generation, it’s really looking good.”
But there is sometimes a social price to pay, he said, for those who swear off shark’s fin soup. “When I realize I’m invited to a wedding that serves shark fin, I have two choices. I can go but not eat it,” he said. “But that shows a lot of disrespect.”
“So I just avoid the whole wedding by saying that I’m busy,” Jirayu said. “I think other people can do the same thing.”
Sea Shepherd Australia reports that in the early hours of yesterday morning the fisherman hired to perform what it calls Western Australian premier Colin Barnett's dirty work of killing protected species, went out to check drum lines as part of the new shark cull program off the Western Australian Coast.
Jeff Hansen, managing director, Sea Shepherd Australia, says:
"As each drum line was checked, it was found to be empty, however on the last drum line the fisherman found a beautiful 3 metre plus female tiger shark. Its difficult to tell how much pain she would have been in for up to 12 hours with Barnett's brutal hook through her mouth. She was then brought alongside the boat by the fisherman and shot four times in the head before she finally died. She was then guttered and then dragged out to sea and dumped at sea as a means to hide Barnett's dirty work from the world. It was a cruel, painful and unnecessary death.
If this is the way that we treat our Australian battlers that work tirelessly to maintain the balance in our oceans, the health and integrity of humanities life support systems, then on this Australia day I am ashamed to be Australian.
How can we condemn Japan for the indiscriminate killing of whales and dolphins and do this to our precious protected marine life here in Australia? This method is utterly cruel and inhumane and these animals can take many hours to die.
The tiger shark is a solitary, mostly nocturnal hunter, with a diet ranging from crustaceans, fish, birds, seals, turtles, squid and sea snakes. Males reach sexual maturity at 2.3 metres to 2.9 metres and females at 2.5 to 3.5 metres. Females mate around once every 3 years with young developing inside the mothers body for up to 16 months, with litters ranging from 10 to 82 pups. Pups are around 50 cm at birth and are vulnerable to predation. Tiger sharks are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, listed as Near Threatened and don't live that long (over 12 years). Given that they don't reproduce every year and have only a few pups that make it to maturity and given that they are listed as near threatened due to finning, the targeting of large breeding sized tiger sharks by the Barnett Government is without a doubt a cull. There is no other way to look at this.
Sea Shepherd Australia is also questioning the competency of the fisherman as he has been adamant that the shark he caught was in fact a Bull shark, however a number of shark experts and researchers, including Blair Ranford has confirmed the species as a Tiger shark.
Australian Shark Slaughter Impoverishes Ocean - The Huffington Post.
Does Premier Colin Barnett of Western Australia (WA) and the federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt have any idea whatsoever that our oceans are dying, quickly? That's the question that my Californian students asked me first period on Monday morning (January 27, 2014).
The WA government is attempting to tame the eastern Indian Ocean because some misguided bureaucrats believe that if they kill all the endangered Great White, threatened Tiger and Bull sharks that come near southwest WA all beachgoers and surfers will be safe. Not only is the WA shark cull incorrect and squandering $20 million; but also the government has sanctioned ecocide.
The Indian Ocean is a wild ecosystem constrained only by biophysical laws. When there are too many predators like Great White, Tiger and Bull sharks and not enough prey they starve to death. Conversely, when there are too few predator sharks, populations of prey become unfit, weak, and old and diseases become epidemics throughout our oceans thereby collapsing fish populations and denying almost 2 billion people their only daily protein source.
Sharing finning and shark fishing are not the same thing. One is a gruesome act while the other has potential to be sustainable. Check out how you can save sharks!
Shark finning is a wasteful and cruel practice. It is wasteful because the entire body of the shark, which could provide a valuable source of protein as well as income, is dumped overboard at sea because the body would otherwise take up cargo space on the ship. In today’s markets, the fin alone is worth more than the rest of the shark. Shark finning is cruel because the fins are typically removed from live sharks, which are then thrown back into the ocean and left to drown. The impact of shark finning on the global shark population is dramatic and it has been cited as a major conservation concern. Globally, scientists and conservationists have reported a drastic decline in the abundance of assessed shark and ray species, with up to 30% of all species now classified as threatened or endangered. Limited data to assess how many and what type of sharks are being harvested results in a high level of uncertainty about the population status of many shark species. Shark finning contributes to this uncertainty because it is almost impossible to identify what species of shark has been caught based only on its fins.
The practice of shark finning has been a hot topic in the media, in Hollywood, and has been the focus of many organizations like Shark Savers and Shark Angels. But does that mean all shark fishing is bad? If shark populations can be managed to support sustainable shark fisheries, then there is a potential for economic and sustenance benefits, as well as achieving the goal of conserving sharks all over the world. Let’s take a look at some of the ways we can manage for healthy shark fisheries.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - Protecting oceans around the world.
The animal we fear the most is also one we depend upon for our survival.
Sharks play a crucial role on this Planet. For 450 million years, they have ensured our ocean's health - enabling our very existence.
But sharks, and this Planet, are quietly headed for disaster.
Up to 73 million sharks will be killed this year. That's over 10,000 every hour.
Few know, often blinded by misguided fears, of the shark's current struggles. Sharks are quickly headed for extinction.
Why? Primarily to feed consumer demand for their fins.
We are running out of time. But we all have the power to make a difference.
It is up to all of us, now, to collaboratively work together and save the sharks. To enforce the laws protecting them. To quickly curb the issues leading to their demise. To prevent this catastrophic extinction.
We have a long legacy protecting the oceans and defending whales, dolphins, tuna and seals. Now we are launching a campaign to protect sharks - an animal few believe is worth fighting for.
Support Sea Shepherd's Operation Requiem and play a very important role in changing the future for sharks.
People who are involved in the shark fin trade or who enjoy eating shark fin soup often argue that shark fins should not be banned. The usual arguments offered in favour of consuming shark fin soup are itemised below, along with the reasons why these arguments do not hold water.
1. Sharks are harmful to humans. We are better off without them.
Although occassionally someone does get injured or killed by a shark, the number who do is actually incredibly small. You are sixteen times more likely to be hit by lightning than to be bitten by a shark. Although the number of human deaths caused by shark attacks is very small, these incidents are widely reported in the press due to their sensational and unusual nature. Sharks also have an image problem, partly because of films like Jaws, but also because they don’t have the “cutesy” factor that animals like dolphins and pandas do. Also – contrary to popular belief – only a very few species of shark ever attack humans – the others are totally harmless.
The idea that we might be “better off without sharks” betrays a detachment from nature and lack of understanding of how it works. In the natural world, all elements of an ecosystem are interconnected, and depend on each other in one way or another. Start taking away the “bricks” that hold up that ecosystem, and sooner or later it is going to collapse. This is particularly true in the case of top predators, such as most species of shark. Top predators act as the caretakers of their environment, picking off the weak and sick of smaller species, helping to ensure strong and healthy populations and a balanced ecosystem.
2. We live on the land. Who cares what happens in the oceans?
Although we live on land, we are not detached from it. 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean. Oceans contain 99% of the Earth’s living space and a huge amount of biodiversity. Scientists believe that there are approximately 240,000 marine species. We also rely on the oceans for much of our food. If we do not practice sustainable fishing methods and manage marine resources responsibly, we will leave an impoverished ocean for future generations. The fact that sharks have existed for 400 million years is testament to their success as a top predator and an ocean caretaker. If sharks are doing such a great job looking after the oceans maybe we should make sure that they are able to continue doing it!
3. If you ban the trade in shark fins, it will just lead to a black market trade.
While it is possible that some black market trade in shark fins may continue, as it has with ivory, it is extremely unlikely that the scale of trade after a ban would be as high as it is now. While large numbers of people are willing to risk punishment for the consumption of drugs, it is very doubtful that they would be willing to do this for the “pleasure” of a menu choice. Despite people’s best efforts, there will always be those who will stop at nothing for material gain, but the response of responsible society should be to take all the measures it can to stamp out activities that are detrimental to other species and the planet. A black market in slavery still exists in some parts of the world – does that mean it should not have been abolished?
4. Only rich people can afford shark fin soup so it’s not such a big problem.
The increase in wealth of the Chinese middle class means that ever greater numbers of Chinese can afford to eat shark fin soup. The demand for shark fins has increased massively in line with China’s increased prosperity. Sharks take 7 to 14 years to reach maturity and stocks therefore take a long time to recover from overfishing. And just a few bowls of shark fin soup accounts for one dead shark, so it doesn’t take much imagination to see the devastating impact that this menu choice is having on shark populations.
5. It’s hypocritical to ban shark fin soup and not other types of meat like chickens and cows.
Vegetarians and vegans would agree that no type of animal should be eaten. However the shark finning issue is different in a number of ways. Firstly, finning means that the main part of the shark is wasted, only the fins are used. On top of this the act of finning a shark while the creature is still alive is barbaric and cruel and is a practice that would be illegal in most countries’ slaughterhouses were it to be practised on a farm animal (for example if a lamb’s legs were cut off and it were left to bleed to death in a crate). Another big difference is that sharks are not farmed animals, they are part of the marine ecosystem, and so many of them are being killed that their very existence as a species is being brought into doubt. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 143 shark species (where there is sufficient data to determine conservation status) are at high risk of extinction either now or in the near future. That’s over 55% of shark species.
6. Shark fin soup is a part of Chinese culture and shouldn’t be interfered with.
It is true that shark fin soup dates back to China’s Ming dynasty. However it was traditionally only consumed by a very exclusive and wealthy minority. To say that it forms a part of traditional culture for the majority of Chinese is disingenuous, as most Chinese were not in a financial position to ever consume this dish. It is only in the last few decades that consumption has risen rapidly. For example,according to Wild Aid “The number of consumers who can afford, or have access to shark fin, has risen from a few million in the ’80s to more than 300 million today.” It is also ironic that those who supposedly have a cultural interest in shark fin soup often display no concern for the conservation status of sharks, which after all would need to be maintained at sustainable levels in order to continue the supply of shark fins for the dish.
What’s more the shark fins used in shark fin soup come from all over the world, which means this is not just a Chinese or Asian issue. As well as threatening the survival of sharks in all the world’s oceans, the irresponsible consumption of shark fin soup threatens other businesses such as dive centres which require a sustainable approach to marine life.
7. Banning shark fins is bad for business.
We would rather that restaurants offered alternatives to shark fin soup on their menus. There are plenty of other things to eat. A business that is founded on an unsustainably sourced resource is doomed to fail sooner or later. Businesses which are concerned that a shark fin ban may affect their income should start to look for alternative revenue sources before a ban comes into place.
8. Why don’t you ban fishing for the whole shark?
For many species a ban on continued shark fishing would be beneficial in order to allow species to recover from years of irresponsible overfishing. However a ban on the trade in shark fins would be effective in reducing supply and demand, as the main reason for recent falls in shark populations is the demand for shark fins.
9. Why are you picking on the Chinese culture when shark cartilage is also used in health food capsules?
Shark cartilage is used in shark cartilage capsules. Claims have been made that shark cartilage helps support joint mobility and repair, however none of these claims have been substantiated. What’s more there are alternatives available which do not contain shark cartilage. Many ocean activists are also against the use of shark fins in capsules and so-called health treatments.
10. Shark fin soup is good for you.
Some people have claimed that shark fin soup has health benefits. These claims are unfounded – in fact shark has a very high level of mercury and the United States Environmental protection agency advises women and young children to avoid it. What’s more, shark fins are often treated with hydrogen peroxide in order to make their color more appealing to consumers. Not really the type of thing you should be eating if you are concerned about your health.
If you scan through social media sites looking for shark videos, you will come across countless videos of people diving with sharks, fishing for sharks, and even saving sharks. But you may also notice a new trend starting to emerge in the shark world: More and more people having hands-on encounters with sharks. And within this group, we are noticing an increase in the number of videos showing people engaging in the practice of shark riding—grabbing a shark by its dorsal fin and allowing it to pull you through the water. This activity has become so prevalent that we recently added the tag “riding a shark” to our blog index at Shark Attack News.
So how did this trend start? The early shark riding videos were primarily released by conservationists who were trying to drive home the message that sharks are not mindless killers that continually roam the oceans seeking out humans for their next meal.
Ocean Ramsey, Kimi Werner, and Lesley Rochat are three of the better-known conservationists who have been depicted riding large tiger and great white sharks. Whether you agree with their tactics or not, the sight of these petite women holding onto the dorsal fins of large apex predators, often two to three times their own size, are absolutely extraordinary and thought-provoking.
These interactions are calculated. These conservationists have many years of experience dealing with sharks, and they have a level of comfort around sharks that most people do not. They did not engage in this activity without preparation, and they acknowledge that there are risks involved.
Once a year, one of Nature's great spectacles takes place on the northernmost coast of the Gulf of Alaska. It is a predestined collision of two massive migrations -- a David and Goliath event -- when thousands of ravenous salmon sharks gather to attack millions of Pacific salmon. The salmon are desperately trying to reach their spawning grounds in Prince William Sound. The sharks are there to gorge themselves. But sharks? In Alaska? Of the nearly 500 known sharks in the world, this is the only large, agile shark equipped to ply these icy waters. This shark is warm-blooded! In the end, the salmon run on an urgency born of their need to reproduce while the sharks run on...hunger. This one-hour spectacular travels with the salmon shark and the salmon in the most revealing portrait ever of this rarely filmed, little known shark: Alaska's Icy Killer.
This summer, a new underwater robot will start tracking some of the ocean’s top predators — including great white sharks — to learn more about their habits.
Sharks receive more media attention than the average fish, but marine scientists still don’t know much about how they live. Researchers often rely on anecdotal reports from commercial fishermen to understand the range and behavior of fish. But the shark industry is relatively small, so anecdotal information is scarce.
Biologist Chris Lowe from California State University Long Beach and engineer Chris Clark from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA have been developing a shark-tracking robot for the past three years to learn more about the fishes’ habits.
“Working with computer scientists to answer these questions is a game changer,” Lowe told Wired. “It’s going to let us answer questions in biology that we have never been able to answer before.”
Marine scientists have used similar autonomous underwater vehicle (AUVs) to collect oceanographic data for decades, but the technology to simultaneously track a moving animal has only developed within the past three years. Other robots now follow penguins, fish, and marine mammals, but this is the first designed specifically to track sharks, Lowe said. His team studies a variety of species, but plans to focus their robot work on great whites. (Another group from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is close on their heels — more on that below).
The team first uses hooks, lines and nets to catch a shark in the wild, embeds a transmitter tag on its dorsal fin, and releases it back into the wild. The AUV then follows along at up to 4 miles per hour, always lurking between 300 to 500 meters behind so as not to alarm the shark.
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