Shark Finning, Where We’re At
Shark finning has been an on going practice for hundreds of years, dating back to the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. However, it has, in the last 70 years, gotten way out of hand. The shark fin trade hit its peak in the year 2000 and has been declining slowly since then. The biggest problem with the practice is that sharks, a key component to the health of our oceans, have become critically endangered.
What is Shark Finning
Shark finning is a barbaric practice that involves removing only the fins of a shark and then dumping it back into the ocean, usually still alive. In recent years laws have been made against these techniques, dictating that the shark must still be attached. Unfortunately, without proper enforcement and amendments shark fisherman are finding loopholes, or in some cases completely disregarding these laws.
How much shark are we talking?
In the early 2000’s reported shark catch weighed in at over 750 000 tons. In more recent years the number has dropped as low as 600 000 tons (read more in these numbers here). Though I would love to be excited about these reductions in numbers it is still very unclear what has caused them.
A few examples include:
- Reduction in shark populations
- finding loopholes that allow fiishermen to remove more of the sharks whole weight at sea
- An increase in unreported shark catch
- Improper species identification
To give you a better idea of how many sharks are being taking out of our oceans every year you need to think about the whole picture. As you many have already realized, not all shark catch is reported. Due to the grotesque nature, and high demand for shark fins there are many sharks being sold on the black market. In addition to this tons of sharks and are also killed as by-catch. By-catch is defined as animals caught unintentionally and discarded dead at sea. This is typical of trollers, net fishing, and a variety of other unsustainable fishing practices.
This photo was taken from Shark Defenders, follow the link to read more about exposure on illegal fin markets.
If sharks are endangered why are they being hunted?
This is probably one of the most frustrating questions to answer. I wish that s any animal was listed as endangered that we would automatically protect it. Sadly, we do not yet live in such a world. Like many other endangered animals sharks are wanted for a specific body part, which is why shark finning is a problem. It is also very difficult to regulate every boat out on the open ocean. Enforcement of laws is a component to conservation that we are sorely in need of. Even sharks listed in CITES (international treaty agreement banning/regulation the amount caught of the defined species) are still being slaughtered regularly for their fins.
In a recent study scientists purchased trimmings from shark fin vendors and proceeded to identify the sharks based on DNA. The fins were purchased from legal markets of Hong Kong (allegedly the number one buyer of legal shark fins). However, after results came back it was the fins were found to be primarily harvested from sharks protected under CITES.
Though reported sharks fished is dropping we need to keep pushing, we need to work harder to protect the sharks. The people at CITES have added a handful of new shark species to the appendix, but now we need to enforce their protection. Especially since most shark finning is done illegally. The amount of sharks removed each year has yet to lower to sustainable levels.
Global awareness of the shark finning trade is rising. Slowly but surely more and more people are starting to fight for these beautiful creatures but it is not yet enough. People like Shark Girl Madison and the Nakawe project are working hard to make things right but they need our help. Though it doesn’t always seem like it, its everyday people that make the most impact. It is with your support we can push our governments to better regulate the fish trade and protect sharks.
How can you help the sharks?
- Buy responsibly, make sure that the products you are buying do not contain shark meat. Be specially wary of fish oils and canned fish.
- Sign these petitions to ban the shark fin trade from North America
- Say NO to shark fin soup and shark steaks
- Support conservation efforts and Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s)
- Reduce plastic use and other sources of pollution
- Educate yourself and others on sharks
- Take the Shark AWARE course (Book through me or your local dive shop to learn even more about sharks also available to non-divers)
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