Sharks kill only 5 people per year – you are actually more likely to die from a pig attack…
anyone who has seen an angry pig will know that is no joke! Sharks ancestors date back 400 million years, surviving while others species went extinct, and yet within the last 30 years they have declined onto the steep path to extinction. With shark-fin soup at the center of it all – we’ve outlined some of the facts and challenges to understand why these magnificent creatures are going towards extinction for their fins.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND – A GROWING PROBLEM
With the Chinese emerging middle class currently at over 300 million (25% of the population) and expected to grow to 700 or 800 million (source CNN money) – the demand for shark-fin is at an all-time high and will grow with this segment. As a representation of wealth and status, shark-fin soup is something once eaten by emperors, and has become an expected addition to any celebration from weddings to business deals. Close to 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins and supply is running out (source Sea Shepherd).
Hong Kong is the world’s shark fin trading centre, accounting for 50-80% of fins traded worldwide. Currently the EU supplies 27% of all fins imported into Hong Kong. (2009)
Sharks’ life history makes them vulnerable to exploitation – for example, Basking Sharks take 15-20 years to mature, have a 2-3 year gestation period and produce only 4–6 pups.
Some Atlantic shark populations have declined by up to 90% in the last 15 years. Sets of fins can sell for more than US$700/kg, with Hammerhead Shark fins among the most valuable by weight. A single Whale Shark pectoral fin can sell for up to US$15,000.
Global trade in shark fins is increasing, and the market for shark fin soup is estimated to be growing by 5% per year.
CHALLENGE OF A SOLUTION
Sitting here in London it is easy for us to see the problem and the solution – stop eating shark-fin soup! Despite it not tasting of much, this is a far more difficult challenge. As a host – serving the soup is a sign of respect to your guests, as a guest, eating it is a sign of respect to the host. While some celebrities and public figures are speaking out against the tradition, activist groups are working the angle of sustainable fishing – as shark finning is amongst the most barbaric fishing methods.
Wet fins typically represent < 5% of a shark’s body weight. Most shark fin fishermen understand the value of the fin and simply slice off the fins before letting the shark sink to the bottom of the ocean. By only taking the fins, fishermen can collect far more fins for the weight of their vessel. By forcing fisherman to take the whole of the shark back to land and sell off both fin and meet, their is a chance to reduce the practice and waste.
The EU’s fin to carcass ratio is among the weakest in the world. As westerners it’s easy to distance ourselves from the problem but the truth is that some of the highest rates of shark fishing for fins are off the coasts of Spain and Mexico.
A third of European sharks, and a total of 126 species of chondrichthyan fish are listed under a threat category on
the IUCN Red List, with a further 107 species Near Threatened. www.redlist.org.
As with any real life challenge, there is no simple solution – while a fear of sharks is understandable, the complete lose of the species would be countless side effects to the delicate ecosystem we live in. Can we really imagine a world were these magnificent creatures don’t exist?
To understand more about the problem and the solutions – the Discovery Channel is sporting three organisations through their Shark Week -save the sharks. Alternatively check out Sea Shepherds conservation society.