Many people are unaware of the horrible and potentially catastrophic business that is the 3rd highest illegal trade after drugs and weapons, so what is Shark Finning? Shark Finning is the removal of Shark Fins (dorsal, pectoral and caudal) and their retention and drying. Once dried the fins are sold to dealers for profit.
In many cases finning occurs while the shark is alive. Once the fins are removed the shark is often thrown back into the ocean alive. Here it sinks to the ocean floor to either drown, starve to death or get eaten alive by other marine animals. Most sharks need to constantly swim to force water / oxygen over their gills and without their fins most sharks die a slow painful death via drowning. What are the fins used for? Mainly for one product only – Shark Fin Soup. The tasteless fins are added to the soup for texture. The flavour of the soup comes from the pork or chicken stock. A bowl of shark fin soup can fetch up to $250. It is sold as a delicacy and as a sign of opulence in Asian cultures. Much like drinking a glass of very expensive champagne.
China is a fast growing economic power house and more wealthy people are showing off their affluence by having this dish at weddings and prestigious events. Shark Fins are also used in traditional Chinese medicine as a cure from intimacy dysfunctions to cancer. However, sharks can get cancer too and are contaminated with high levels of mercury in their bodies. So by consuming their fins you maybe contaminating your body with mercury. It is estimated that in some areas species of sharks populations have declined by 90%. If the sharks die we die too.
As a diver I love seeing these animals in the water and I often go on dives just to see sharks. They are elegant, mysterious, shy and so adapt to their surroundings you feel sluggish and stupid when you are in the water with them. Sharks have been living in our oceans for 400 millions years and have outlived dinosaurs. If this mass slaughter was happening on land would we condone this to happen? I really doubt it showing the support of the campaigns for tigers, elephants and rhinos.
Unfortunately in Europe Spain is by far the largest supplier of shark fins, hauling around 2,000 and 5,000 metric tons a year. Norway supplies around 39 metric tonnes, but Britain, France, Portugal and Italy are also major suppliers. In Asia Indonesia is by far the largest supplier as the waters around their coasts are unregulated and impossible to police.
Hong Kong handles at least 50% and possibly up to 80% of the world trade in shark fins. There are whole streets dedicated to this barbaric market. So why all the fuss, who cares about sharks? They are essentially crazy man eaters right? No they are not, more people die each year by donkeys and coconuts than from shark attacks! They have been and still are wrongly portrayed in the media and films about their savage tendencies – Jaws / Sharknado.
Overfishing that have brought sharks closer to our shore lines to hunt for diminishing stocks of fish. It’s their ocean and habitat and whenever we step into the water you have to be aware of this. Essentially though if we kill the sharks we kill our oceans. Sharks are basically the underwater rubbish disposal units. They feed on the weak and the old, they balance out life, they stop the mass rises in smaller fish (by killing the larger fish) and therefore without them coral reefs could die. As corals provide much of the world oxygen we are in effect destroying ourselves.
Some quick facts –
- Over 70 million to 100 million sharks are killed every year, that’s 133 – 190 sharks per minute.
- An average fin can sell for around $120 and an a bowl of shark fin soup can sell for around $100.
- It is estimated that in 10 years the sharks will be extinct if we carry on this slaughter at the current rate.
- Shark Fins are used for Shark Fin soup eaten mainly in Asia but also across the world.
- Shark Finning is a global problem not just an Asian one.
- Hong Kong is the largest trading centre for shark fins.
- 33% of Shark fins are from European sources.
The tide is slowly turning, in the past few years huge support to stop this trade and make people more aware has taken place. Celebrities like Leonardo Dicaprio, Gordon Ramsey and his TV series Shark Bait, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Richard Branson. Prolific and much needed Asian celebs such as Jackie Chan, NBA Chinese Star Yao Ming and other Asian stars took part in this video. Some countries have banned shark fins altogether. California has recently banned all sale of shark fin and banned it all restaurants. Korean Airlines and Cathay Pacific have recently refused to transport any shark fins. Divers and non divers are becoming more aware and the world is spreading.
The BBC published a report on the decline of trade in Hong Kong – see here, this claims that this tirade is on the decrease, hopefully. CITES in March 2013 included 8 species of shark on their Appendix II category. Appendix II includes species that could become threatened with extinction if trade is not regulated. Hopefully help is on the way. I just hope we are not to late as these animals are slow breeders and take a long time (up to 8 years) to reach sexual maturity.
So what can you do to help –
- If you are in a restaurant and see shark fin soup on the menu ask to see the manager and tell them that you will not eat here because they serve shark fin soup. Tell them that you are going to tell all your friends about it and the will lose business. Don’t make a scene but make your voice heard by other customers. Trust me I tried making a scene once in Kuala Lumpur and it got pretty ugly.
- Obviously don’t eat shark fin soup or buy any products that contain shark.
- Sign petitions that help to protect sharks it only takes a minute and they do have an effect if everyone takes part – sign here
- Boycott companies that stock or sell shark products especially airlines that still transport shark fins.
- Support shark conservation take apart in a project, adopt a shark or donate money to support shark conservation projects.
- Educate yourself and others about this cruel practice, spread the word.