Cutting Out Shark Fins From Our Lives

Sharks only cause ten human deaths per year, yet humans kill three sharks per second. Even with this comforting data, humans tend to be panicked with regard to shark attacks. The fear of sharks ranks number 54 on; this means people tend to be more scared of sharks than choking, crime, or the future. With this skewed perspective of sharks in our society, it makes sense that people are not worried about decimating shark populations. People believe that the death of the killers of the ocean is not disadvantageous, but instead makes their “beach week” in the summer a little more enjoyable, without the worry of sharks nearby. Even if fear of sharks complicates human empathy, the inhumane killing of thousands of sharks per year for one type of soup is unjustifiable.

In China, it is traditional to eat shark fin soup. This delicacy is made up of chicken broth, chicken, mushrooms, spices, and shark fins, and it is considered one of the “Big Four”: a four-part traditional meal. Recent visitors from China at Collegiate offered some insight into the shark fin issue. Collegiate’s International Emerging Leaders program has an Asia component, wherein students from China visit Collegiate in February, and then students from the IELC Asia Senior Seminar class reciprocate with a visit to China in March. While William, a student at Collegiate’s partner school, Yangzhou New Oriental, was at Collegiate last week, he said the taste of shark fin soup is “nothing special,” it has been believed to have curing powers. This dish is also a status symbol, whose high price tag of $100 per bowl attracts consumers at large events. However, now, this dish has become increasingly popular as an emerging middle class can now afford it. Of course, this is not representative of the entire Chinese population. According to another student from Yangzhou New Oriental, Sheldon, some people do not eat it because they know that the process “kills sharks and put[s] them in the ocean and [they] can’t swim.” China is not the only place to serve this dish; in fact, the Animal Welfare Institute suggests that in New York shark fin soup can be found in upwards of 55 restaurants. Cutting shark fins from diets is necessary in order to reduce the demand for shark fins, in turn weakening the industry and discouraging its continued practice. Shark finning needs come to an end because of the inhumane practices it involves and its environmental and economic impacts.

In order to fulfil the need for the sharks’ fins, mainly industrial fishing companies practice shark finning, thereby outpacing the production of local fisherman. Going out on their ships, fishers catch sharks and bring them onto the floor of the boat. There, their fins are cut off from their bodies, and the sharks, still alive, are thrown back into the ocean. Unable to swim without fins, the sharks either suffocate because they cannot receive the dissolved oxygen in the water, or sink to the bottom, where they could be eaten by other organisms. On the other hand, the fisherman get exactly what they want, the fin, without having to take the time to deal with the relatively unprofitable body. The death the sharks endure is slow and painful. Not only is this practice inhumane, it is also unsustainable.

The fins of a shark that are removed during shark finning. Photo Credit: Grolltech

The fins of a shark that are removed during shark finning.
Photo credit: Grolltech

Sharks play a vital role in marine ecosystems. As a tertiary consumer, the loss of sharks from the food chain leads to an imbalance between other species. Sharks, being an apex predator, control the populations of smaller species. There is a delicate balance between predators and prey, and disruption to the balance can change the fabric of the entire ecosystem. If this practice remains, shark finning will reduce shark populations at a rate at which they will not be able to recover. Additionally, it can take a shark up to 20 years to reach sexual maturity. This means the shark has to survive from the grasps of the longlines for 20 years before it can begin to reproduce. Because of slow generation time, sharks are “more vulnerable to overfishing.” In fact, three species of shark are considered to be endangered, but Peter Knights, a WildAid executive director, believes more shark species should be on this list.

Shark finning long term can also hurt the economy. Since locals are being out-competed by industrial finning companies, the locals who generally relied on the money from this hunting cannot earn enough. Additionally, these local fisheries tend to be more sustainable, because the volume of sharks finned was significantly less. According to National Geographic, a hammerhead shark is worth $1.6 billion when it is alive. Not only is this because while it is alive it provides ecosystem services, but sharks are also a popular aspect of ecotourism. People find it interesting to watch, learn about, and interact with sharks via swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling. Overall, the shark that is alive has a better return on investment rather than when it is floating in a bowl of chicken broth.

Sharks fins that were removed via shark finning are laid across the floor of a boat. Photo Credit: Nicholas Wang

Sharks fins that were removed via shark finning are laid across the floor of a boat.
Photo credit: Nicholas Wang.

In order to combat the problem, federal regulation needs to be implemented about shark finning.

“Apart from implementing various restrictions on the finning of sharks at sea in some countries—e.g., the U.S. and the EU—investment in setting up fisheries-management systems for sharks has been nonexistent for most shark fisheries,”  Murdoch McAllister of the Imperial College London.

As Murdoch states, the U.S. has created the Shark Conservation Act. This act makes it so fishermen in the U.S. and U.S. territory cannot throw the de-finned shark overboard, but instead must be responsible for its body. This act was made in hopes that with this added hassle of the body, fishermen would be discouraged from fishing sharks. While this act has been helpful in limiting the number of sharks killed by shark finning per year, action like this needs to be taken in other countries.

Not only are sharks important to the environment and the ecotourism industry, shark finning is a matter of ethics. If this mass murder was happening to a well-loved species, such as the dog, humans would be more involved in helping turn this industry around. Humans are animals; dogs are animals; sharks are animals. Let us remember this, and work to change the accepted killing of 38 million sharks per year.

Featured image photo credit: Mark Conlin.

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About the author

Morgan is a Junior at Collegiate.