Shark fin soup: is it fin-ished?By Graham Land Sep 20, 2013 6:00AM UTC
Despite (sometimes reluctant) steps by governments to halt the endangerment of shark species throughout the world, sharks are disappearing – and with dire consequences.
India recently banned the fishing of sharks exclusively for their fins after several shark species became endangered in Indian waters. Since sharks are difficult to identify by their fins alone an outright ban was instituted with punishments up to seven years in prison for hunting an endangered species.
Local governments have also gotten into the game with Hong Kong bending to pressure from environmental groups to ban shark fin soup. The ban is partial, but better than nothing: shark fin soup is now officially off the menu at official functions.
From the New York Times:
Scientists estimate that as many as 100 million sharks are killed each year, mostly for their fins, which are typically served in soup. The practice is widely considered cruel and wasteful, because the sharks are often thrown overboard, finless, to die. Hong Kong is the world’s biggest trade hub for shark fins, representing about 50 percent of the trade.
Strangely enough it is official banquets or banquets involving businesses and government officials that account for a lot of shark fin soup sales in China. It is common for businesses to wine and dine officials by impressing them with the expensive dish. China’s Communist Party announced a crackdown on such practices back in December as a means of tackling corruption and waste. But the resulting drop in demand should have a strong knock on effect for shark fin harvesting. So far this has been the case.
From the Independent:
Zhao Ping, the deputy director of the Department of Consumption Economy Studies at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Co-operation, believes up to 50 per cent of the drop in shark fin consumption is a result of cutbacks in government-related dining.
Legislators in the US state of Pennsylvania are also trying to ban the sale of shark fins in their state. The practice of shark finning is already illegal in the entire US, but the sale and possession of shark fins are not. Bipartisan legislation from both Republican and Democrat state senators in Pennsylvania aims to close this loophole.
Finally, Australian-led research has shown that declining shark populations are damaging coral reefs. The overfishing of grey reef and hammerhead sharks in areas north-west of Australia by Indonesian fishers has triggered a boom in mid-level predator fish, which in turn consume unsustainable amounts of small herbivorous fish. These small fish are crucial to maintaining healthy coral reefs.
From the Guardian:
Going by our surveys, around four sharks a day were being taken from these reefs. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it has been going on for a long time. The fishermen come in their sailing prows, which can dry an awful lot of shark fin on the decks. The result of this is that the whole food chain is being thrown out of whack. Snappers are far more abundant when the sharks are gone and they take out the algae-eating fish.
–Mark Meekan, Australian Institute of Marine Science
As is often the case, we find out too late that human activities, fuelled by profit rather than survival, result in destroying entire ecosystems, which have evolved to be carefully balanced. In the end a little short-term profit results in devastating long-term losses.