For many people, sharks invoke a sense of fear and an image of straight out of a scene from Jaws. But while sharks may look scary, we are causing more harm to them than they will ever do to us. And it is all because of the shark fin trade.
Recently, the United Kingdom became the first nation to ban the shark fin trade, with all imports, exports, and related products. Did you know that millions of sharks are killed every year for their fins? By enforcing the ban, the UK hopes to distance itself from the cruel and wasteful industry.
Shark finning is the practice of removing the fins from a captured shark. Then, discarding the animal at sea, still living or dead.
The reprehensible and wasteful act is largely driven by the high value and price of the fin. Shark meat, on the other hand, has a very low value. Sharks captured are sometimes killed for their fins.
The high value and increased market for shark fins creates huge incentive for fishermen to take the fins and discard the animal. This leaves room in the ship’s hold for the more valuable meat of the tuna or swordfish.
Simply put, shark finning is wasteful, inhumane, and unsustainable. Since 2000, many countries have adopted laws within their waters to ban this practice.
Any shark is fair game for shark finning. Yet, some species are more prized than others. For example, the large fins of Whale sharks and basking sharks are coveted for decoration at restaurants. These species are among the most threatened.
According to some statistics, fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global shark fin every year. They are caught and killed faster than they can reproduce.
According to scientists, sharks are killed 30% faster than they can replace themselves. And because of this, one in four species are threatened with extinction.
The greatest threat for sharks is the high demand for their fins. It has led to wasteful and inhumane practice of shark finning. The process involves cutting the fins off a shark and then discarding the body at sea. There, sharks die a slow death from drowning. Sometimes, they bleed to death or end up being eaten alive by other fish.
Shark fins are used in shark fin soup, a delicacy in some Asian countries. Between 2000 and 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States reported an average of 16,815 metric ton of shark fins were traded around the world.
The main purpose of shark fins is they serve as ingredient in shark fin soup. It is a delicacy once prepared exclusively for the Chinese emperors and nobility.
How is shark fin soup prepared? Well, the cartilage from the fin is carefully dried and prepared, and then used as an ingredient in a soup flavoured with seafood or chicken broth and herbs.
The process of preparation makes the soup costly, as much as $100 per bowl. You can see it commonly served at banquets and weddings in Asian countries. Serving of shark fin soup is considered prestigious.
By weight, dried shark fin is the most expensive seafood product. It creates a huge incentive for fishermen to hunt sharks. Shark fins are sold for as much as $2,200 per pound.
Around 50% of the dried fin market is brokered through Hong Kong and China is the primary market for shark fin. However, it is widely used in the USA as well, putting shark population at risk. Countries have reported exporting 600 metric tons of shark fins into the US in 2011.
Yes, shark fin soup is associated with Asian cultural celebrations. The cultural associations are modern and associated with prestige.
The problem is simple economics. Increasing affluence creates increased demand. And as you can assume, demand is exceeding the supply, creating a loop and making shark fins harder to obtain. This increases the price, making the dish more expensive and prestigious.
- According to Shark Water, shark finning violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries
- An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year for their fins
- Shark populations have decreased between 60 and 90 percent in the last 15 years
- According to animal experts, many shark species will disappear because of longlining within 10 years
- The shark fin trade is a multi-billion dollar industry, with one pound of shark fin selling for more than $300
- Sharks are also killed for teeth, jaws, liver oil, and cartilage
- Sharks mature within seven to 20 years, making it nearly impossible for them to bounce back as quickly as they are removed from oceans. This leaves the entire ecosystem at greater risk
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