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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shark finning

According to wildlife conservationists, much of the trade in sharks' fins is derived from fins cut from living sharks; this process is called finning. Because shark meat is worth much less, the finless and often still-living sharks are thrown back into the sea to make room on board the ship for more of the valuable fins. When returned to the ocean, the finless sharks, unable to move, either die from suffocation or are consumed by other sharks or animals.

However, according to Giam Choo Hoo, the longest serving member of the CITES Animals Committee, "The perception that it is common practice to kill sharks for only their fins - and to cut them off whilst the sharks are still alive - is wrong.... The vast majority of fins in the market are taken from sharks after their death." However, this discounting of an international phenomenon is disputed by extensive examination of fin sourcing and fisheries data as reported by Dr. Shelly Clarke in Ecology Letters. The first real-data study of sharks harvested for their valuable fins estimates that between 26 million and million sharks are killed each year worldwide, three times higher than was reported originally by the United Nations, according to a paper published as the cover story in the October 2006 edition of Ecology Letters.

Finning of living sharks on an industrial scale does occur and has been witnessed and photographed within the protected marine area of Costa Rica's Cocos Island National Park by the crew of the conservation vessel Ocean Warrior. The practice is featured in the documentary "Sharks: Stewards of the Reef". which contains footage from W. Australian waters and Central America and also examines the cultural, financial and ecological impacts of shark finning. This incident was also recorded by underwater photographer Richard Merritt who has witnessed finning of living sharks in Indonesia where he saw the immobile finless sharks lying still alive on the sea bed under the fishing boat. Finning has been witnessed and filmed within a protected marine area in the Raja Ampat islands of Indonesia.

Finning is vigorously opposed by animal welfare groups; both on moral grounds and also because it is listed as one of the causes for the rapid decline of global shark populations. On the IUCN red list there are 39 species of elasmobranches (sharks and rays) listed as threatened species (Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable). The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists three sharks in Appendix II: the basking shark, the great white shark and the whale shark. Appendix II lists those species that are not in danger of extinction, but which require controls on international trade to maintain their populations. It is estimated that 10–100 million sharks are slaughtered each year for their fins, with a median figure of 38 million. The industry is valued at US$1.2 billion; because of the lucrative profits, there are allegations of links to organized crime. They also raise questions on the medical harm from the consumption of high levels of toxic mercury reportedly found in shark fins.

Numbers of some shark species have dropped as much as 80% over the last 50 years. Some organizations claim that shark fishing or bycatch (the unintentional capture of species by other fisheries) is the reason for the decline in the populations of some species and that the market for fins has very little impact – bycatch accounts for an estimated 50% of all sharks taken – others that the market for shark fin soup is the main reason for the decline. Tommy Cheung, the legislator representing Hong Kong's catering sector, said: "I don't believe sharks are an endangered species. Some species of shark may be, but not all shark's fin comes from certain species. There are a lot of species that are plentiful." Since many countries do not allow shark finning there is no reliable count for the numbers taken in the shark fin trade and thus it is hard to prove the claims on either side of the argument. Sharks are caught for their fins and meat all over the world.

According to Giam's article, "sharks are caught virtually all parts of the world. Despite the strongly declared objectives of the Fisheries Commission in Brussels, there are very few restrictions on fishing for sharks in European waters. The meat of dogfishes, smoothhounds, catsharks, skates and rays is in high demand by European consumers...The situation in Canada and the United States is similar: the blue shark is sought after as a sport fish while the porbeagle, mako and spiny dogfish are part of the commercial fishery...the truth is this: Sharks will continue to be caught and killed on a wide scale by the more organized and sophisticated fishing nations...targeting shark's fin soup will not stop this accidental catch. The fins from these catches will be thrown away or turned into animal feed and fertilizers if shark's fin soup is shunned."

International reaction

New laws have been passed to prevent finning; though much of the international waters continue to be unregulated. International fishing authorities are in the process of banning shark fishing (and finning) in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Finning is banned in the Eastern Pacific, but shark fishing and finning continues unabated in the rest of the Pacific and Indian Ocean.


NBA All-Star Yao Ming pledged to stop eating shark fin soup at a news conference on August 2, 2006. Yao's comments were largely unreported in the Chinese media and drew a reproach from Chinese seafood industry associations. Ironically, one of the items on Yao Ming's wedding dinner menu was shark fin soup. US basketball player Tracy McGrady, a team mate of Yao's, reportedly said that he was impressed by the soup when he tried it for the first time, but was criticized by the Hong Kong branch of the WWF for his remark. Late Australian naturalist Steve Irwin was known to walk out of Chinese restaurants if he saw shark fin soup on the menu.[ The Chinese-American chef, Ken Hom, sees double standards from the West, with little being done to protect stocks of cod and caviar-producing sturgeon while there is outcry over shark-finning, but he also stresses the wastefulness of harvesting only the fins.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Disneyland dropped the dish from its wedding banquet menu after international pressure from environmental groups, who threatened to boycott its parks worldwide despite the high demand for the delicacy in China. The University of Hong Kong has banned shark fin being served on campus. 97% of respondents in the WWF Seafood Awareness survey said if fish species were threatened they would stop eating them (39%) or reduce the amount they ate (58%).


On September 15, 2007, Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Ministry Azmi Khalid banned shark's fin soup from official function menus as commitment to the Malaysian Nature Society (for conservation of shark species).

New Zealand

The great white sharks have been given full protection in the territorial waters of New Zealand but it is legal to carry out shark finning on other shark species on the condition that the shark is dead. The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand have launched a campaign to raise awareness of shark finning and a number of foodies have fronted the campaign.

United States

The United States recently issued a ban on finning, applicable only to U.S.-registered vessels, even in U.S. territorial waters; and shark fins cannot be imported into the USA without entire carcasses.

1 comment:

Airjaws said...

Well done on posting your comment. the more people become aware of what greed and profit is doing to the sharks around the world, then maybe it will start to make an impact.

We have noticed a decline in the Blue and Mako sharks on our shark trips due to the long lining fishing in South Africa. I guess that in a few years we wont be able to do any pelagic shark trips as there may not be any sharks to see out there???? Lets hope that I am wrong