Contrary to popular belief, sharks do not commonly attack humans, but humans commonly attack sharks. People all around the world remove shark fins and leave the shark to die. This not only damages shark populations, but it also damages the economy and deprives many of much needed food. There are laws in place to regulate shark finning, but unfortunately, not everyone abides by the law. Some may argue that killing “vicious” animals is not something to be thought about twice, but shark finning is an inhumane and extremely wasteful practice that must end.
Shark finning is the act of catching a shark, cutting off its fins while it is still alive, and dumping the rest of the body back into the ocean. When a shark doesn’t have fins, it may drown because it cannot swim, or it may bleed out. Some sharks breathe using ram ventilation, which is water moving over their gills while swimming, many other sharks breathe using buccal pumping, which uses the mouth. “Some sharks, however, have completely lost the ability to breathe by buccal pumping, and these are the sharks that will indeed drown if they stop swimming and ramming water” (Georgina).
The majority of shark fins are sold in Asian countries such as China and Malaysia. The following graph depicts imports of shark fins by continent in tons from 1976 to 1997 (6. 2 FINS). In these places, shark fins are most likely used for a dish considered a delicacy of the wealthy; shark fin soup. This dish is believed to promote health and healing. Scientifically proven to be a food without healing properties, the shark fin is virtually tasteless. The flavor of shark fin soup comes from the other ingredients in the soup, such as chicken, vegetables, and the broth.
Sharks have multiple fins desired by people. The pectoral fins, dorsal fin, anal fin, and even part of the tail are often sold for hundreds of dollars per pound. Around 26 to 73 million sharks are killed every year for only 1-5% of their entire body weight. Sharks being killed not only causes damage to shark populations and other animal populations in the ocean, but can also cause damage to the economy. Sharks have a very low rate of reproduction. Taking many years to mature and only having one shark pup at a time, it takes a long time to replenish the population.
This is worrisome for many scientists around the world because many species of sharks are endangered or threatened. “Relative to other marine fish, sharks are characterized by relatively slow growth, late sexual maturity, and a small number of young per brood” (Affairs). The depletion of shark populations can cause an increase in populations of their prey – rays – thus causing a decrease in the number of the smaller animals that are eaten by the rays. This decrease in population can cause the shutdown of fisheries and a decrease in sales for seafood companies.
This not only hurts the bivalve populations and therefore the biodiversity of the ecosystem; it also harms human fisheries “(Fairclough). Many sharks bring in money from tourists. Often times, tourists will swim with more non-aggressive sharks such as whale sharks. This generates hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, but when sharks are constantly being killed – whether from overfishing or finning – tourism income decreases. These money shortages can cause problems for everyone in the tourist area. Sharks are not only killed for their fins, although it is the most common.
Shark skin is used to make shark leather, and their teeth are used as tourist trinkets. Other parts of sharks – such as the cartilage and liver – are also desired. Shark liver oil is also often sold for its healing properties. The cartilage is believed to have healing properties and is typically sold in the form of capsules. Shark cartilage is believed to cure asthma, arthritis, and cancer, however, there is no scientific evidence to back this up. It has been proven that sharks contain methylmercury and ingesting large amounts of this substance can cause atypical fetal development and male infertility.
Methylmercury affects the brain, spinal cord, kidneys, and the liver. Methylmercury poisoning causes motor skills and senses to become dulled (WildAid). Eating shark meat has been proven to be more dangerous than beneficial. However, in many developing countries, shark is the only meat source for many of people. These people use the whole shark and do not waste anything. “With human populations increasing and shark stocks decreasing, poor countries are being deprived of an essential source of protein” (WildAid). When people only kill sharks solely for their fins, they are wasting approximately 95% of the shark.
That large percentage that is wasted could be used to feed hungry people, but instead, it is thrown in the ocean because the weight causes an inconvenience to fishermen. There are many laws in place to help prevent and decrease the occurrence of shark finning. The Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act protects only the sharks in waters that are under the jurisdiction of the United States Federal Government. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act. This act prohibited the removal the shark fin and dumping the rest of the body, but only in United States’ Federal waters.
It also made it illegal to “have custody, control, or possession of any such fin aboard a fishing vessel without the corresponding carcass” (Neville). As a result of the Shark Finning Prohibition Act only applying to “fishing vessels”, many fishermen were able to get around punishment for shark finning. To close this loophole, President Barack Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act, which made it illegal for “any vessel to have shark fins on board unless they are naturally attached to the corresponding shark carcass” (Neville). There are not only federal laws, but also state laws to control shark finning.
Hawaii, California, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Oregon, Washington, New York, and territories Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands have all passed laws to put an end to shark finning. International laws include the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks. Unfortunately, these laws are not very effective. Laws such as the aforestated are difficult to enforce. There cannot be someone constantly on a ship watching a fisherman’s every action, and many people choose not to follow the law because of the lack of law enforcement.
The shark finning industry is too profitable for people to give up. When someone is caught supposedly breaking the law, often times the law contains a loophole which allows them to claim innocence. The only way to prevent finning is to raise awareness. Internationally, society has reached a point where people are becoming more aware of this issue. In 2013, Mainland China’s government placed a ban on shark fin soup at all state banquets. In the same year, Hong Kong’s government banned shark fin soup from all government functions.
A survey conducted in 2013 concluded that 85% of people in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu had not eaten shark fin soup since 2010. In 2014, nearly 150,000 people in Malaysia and Hong Kong came together and signed “I’m FINished with Fins”; a pledge to stop eating shark fins. Since 2014, over 40 airlines and over 20 hotel chains have stopped serving shark fin soup. The general public’s support for banning shark fin sales was over 60 times the amount of citizens opposed to banning selling shark fin sales, “27,370 people voted for a ban on shark fin sales” (Sharks).
One of the most surprising facts is that many people thought the fins grew back and even more people in China did not know that shark fin soup came from sharks. This is because the direct translation of “shark fin soup” from Mandarin is “fish wing soup”. This does not explicitly tell where the fin comes from. However, society has come a long way and people are now more aware of the consequences of this expensive dish and are working towards removing it from menus everywhere. Laws that cannot be enforced will not help end the horror that is shark finning.
To bring this practice to an end, global awareness must be raised. Shark finning is wasteful and cruel, and it damages the economy and biodiversity of the oceans. Sharks aren’t only killed for fins, they are also killed for cartilage, teeth, and oil. Regulations and laws are in place to contain and minimize the occurrences of finning, but loopholes allow legal shark finning to continue. In more recent years, global awareness has been raised, and people have started eliminating the consumption and selling of shark fins within their communities.