Shark fin soup is getting more and more attention, and so I thought it was about time I talked about it.
I think the most important thing to point out whenever talking about sharks, is how important and crucial they are for marine ecosystems. Most sharks are top predators, and without them there would sure to be ecosystem collapse.
Shark fin soup is of Chinese origin. The fin itself has very little flavour, but is added for texture and as it is seen as a delicacy. As in the cases of most (if not all) animal-products trade, this is ridiculous. This is particularly ridiculous, as the fin basically adds nothing to the soup, except the name, but it's the name that causes people to buy it. It's often served at special events, such as weddings, and it's not cheap. It can cost up to $100 for a bowl! It seems to me like a bit of a status symbol, like caviar. So it's not even that tasty, and is used more for showing off wealth than for genuine enjoyment of the dish.
However, it's still in high demand, and because it can fetch rather high prices, people are killing sharks wherever they can find them. They are trying to ensure a steady supply of fins to the market. This demand is unsustainable for the current shark populations, and their numbers have dramatically reduced in the last 30 to 40 years, correlating with the increased demand for shark fin soup. 14 species of shark which are popular within the shark fin trade, are now at risk of extinction (see here for which 14). In addition, 141 sharks are considered threatened or near threatened, and for some other species there isn't even enough data to decide their conservation status.
The current rate and level of slaughter of sharks will take the populations a huge amount of time to recover from; time they don't necessarily have. Sharks can take anything from 7 to 20 years to reach maturity (depending on the species) and so less and less will reach maturity, and the numbers will plummet at alarming rates. With less individuals reaching maturity, repopulating will be much harder and slower. This has also caused some shark species to be physically smaller - some up to 50%!
Sharks are often returned to the ocean once their fins have been removed, to enable boats to increase the number of fins they can carry. When the sharks are retuned to the ocean, they cannot swim properly and so sink and either die of suffocation or being eaten by another predator. However, many parts of the world have banned this practise and require the fins to be moved once the boat has returned to land.
Regulations and laws regarding shark finning are tricky as international waters are unregulated. In 2013, 27 countries and the EU banned shark finning, and finning is banned in the eastern Pacific. There are also shark sanctuaries, where all shark fishing and finning is prohibited, areas where fin-to-body mass ratio based regulations are in place, and areas where shark product trade is regulated. However in most of the Pacific and Indian oceans, shark fishing and finning continues.
Please don't eat shark fin soup. Awareness in some countries, including Thailand and Singapore, has led to a decrease in consumption by 25%! Therefore showing that the more people who are aware of the risks by killing sharks on such a large scale, the less sharks will be killed. This is a simple case of supply and demand; no demand, no need to supply.
Marine conservation is something I haven't had much hands-on experience with, but definitely something I want to pursue in the future. I love diving, and I love the ocean, and some of my favourite animals live there.
|Bull Shark (source)|
|Great Hammerhead Shark (source)|
, by Kate Sheridan