At the current rate of fishing we will destroy most shark populations beyond the point of recovery in the very near future. Whether shark fishing can be done in a sustainable way is still unclear. The evidence suggests it is not. But to find out we must give current shark populations a chance to recover by curbing the trade of fins and by reducing the demand for shark fin soup and shark meat.
The oceans are the most important ecosystem on the planet. Covering 70+ % of the earth’s surface, they are home to 80% of life on earth, are 90% of the habitable space on earth, and produce at least half of the oxygen in the air we breathe. The oceans regulate our climate, and the concentration of gasses in the atmosphere. Sharks have been an integral part of this ecosystem for more than 400 million years. Removing sharks interferes with the complex natural balance we depend on for survival.
Shark fin soup is a Chinese delicacy dating back thousands of years. Cartilage from the shark fin is used to add texture to a soup flavoured with chicken or pork broth. Shark Fin Soup became a status symbol, served as a sign of wealth, and to show respect for guests and friends. It is now common at weddings, banquets, and business dinners throughout much of Asia. Unfortunately, many consuming shark fin soup are unaware of where the ingredients come from, the practice of finning, or the importance of sharks. The high price of fins has fueled a trade that reaches around the globe, leaving no coastline or island untouched.
Our growing demands have wreaked havoc in the oceans. 90% of the big fish are gone, much of the coastal habitats have been lost, and we’re changing the ocean’s chemistry and temperature with our pollution.
Unfortunately, what is out of sight is too often out of mind, so we don’t hear or think about consequences in the ocean, and they are often the last to receive legislation and adequate protection. That’s why the oceans need your help!
Shark populations have dropped by up to 90%. We are killing 100 million sharks a year, mostly to fuel the demand for shark fin soup, which can fetch hundreds of dollars a bowl. A single whale shark fin can fetch $50,000!
Sharks are commonly caught on long lines - lines that can stretch for a hundred miles and contain tens of thousands of baited hooks. With shark fin fetching hundreds of dollars a pound, fishermen started the brutal practice of finning - removing the shark fins, and discarding the body, wasting 95% of the animal.
Unfortunately, sharks have not evolved to be prey, and their populations cannot sustain this kind of pressure. Unlike other fish, which can have thousands of young, sharks breed like people or elephants, and can take 125-25 years to reach sexual maturity and have very few young.
The tricky part with fisheries regulations and laws addressing this issue is that when the practice of finning becomes outlawed, it is often difficult to enforce. There are too many ways to get around it. When laws require to bring bring the animal whole, with fins attached, it simply encouraged fishermen to find ways to market the whole shark. In recent years the market of shark meat has increased as commercial fishing operations are looking to sell more of the sharks they catch and also have a harder time catching fish in general. The big incentive still comes through the high price of fins. Without that, catching a shark is not that profitable. This is the main reason why fin trade bans can be effective. If they can’t sell the fin it is less likely they will target sharks. The ultimate solution is to stop the fishing of sharks all together, but if that is not possible, due to the the strength and influence of the commercial fishing lobby, a fin trade ban is one of the most effective measures out there.
With few functional international regulations to protect sharks, and large areas of the oceans unprotected, saving sharks will come down to reducing the demand for shark fins and meat- and that’s where Fin Free comes in!
Throughout humankind’s decades of industrial exploitation, we have expelled a vast amount of pollutants into the environment. These pollutants travel around the world on air and water currents they become part of the food chain as they get absorbed by all plants and animals, ever increasing in toxicity as small fish eats plants, bigger fish eats smaller fish, and finally end up in the top predators, such as sharks, marlin and large tuna. A shark will contain all the toxic pollutants from all the fish it has eaten over its lifetime!
For more information, read “Mercury in Sharks” factsheet.
Another threat to sharks is the loss of habitat. Many sharks and rays depend on estuaries as nurseries for their young. Estuaries around the world are often prime real estate, and are disappearing to make way for development.
Fin Free is the campaign to ban the trade of shark fin worldwide. With leading nations, states - such as New York, Hawaii, California, Marshall Islands, and companies such as Virgin, UPS - all banning shark fins, the movement is well underway… with your help we can be even more effective.
We believe that by providing simple, tools and some guidance along the way, many more people will be encouraged AND enabled to support the cause and to feel that they too can be activists and be part of this movement.
With Fin Free we can bring people together to champion shark fin bans all around the world.