Due to Finning, Shark Species Face Global Extinction


The tune is legendary, probably more so than the movie it goes to: Dun dun. Dun dun dun dun. Even people who have never seen the movie know just what the music means. It means shark and, to most people, that means danger. All it takes is a few notes of music to send people into a mindless fear fit and swear off swimming in the ocean forever. If a shark does actually attack and injure or kill a swimmer/surfer, the calls for total retaliation a la Hell's Angels typically begin.

For good or worse, though, the largest threat to all species of sharks isn't revenge-hungry ignorants who don't know anything about the oceanic environment. The shark finning industry and the hunger of Asia for shark fin soup is. Shark finning is a $1.2 billion dollar industry, but the global fishing industry is a hundred billion dollar industry, and very soon we're going to have to decide which one to sacrifice. 

Time magazine reports that as of last year, 70 million sharks are culled annually to feed Asia's (mainly Taiwan's and mainland China's) longing for the underwhelming soup that once was the fare of Emperors. These days it's a symbol of wealth, prestige, power, and honor. Given these attachments and the fact that in many places, a single bowl of soup costs nearly $100 or more in U.S. dollars, it's not hard to see why it is often made for celebrations. Unfortunately, with the growth of China's middle class, the demand for the soup has skyrocketed to unsustainable levels.

Global shark populations have dropped in some places by 90% in the last 20-30 years and show no sign of slowing, despite 30% of species facing extinction. Taking an apex predator out of the food chain is usually bad enough for an ecosystem, but in this case, many species of sharks are being decimated in all corners of the world. An entire superorder is being threatened worldwide. Removing the top link would throw the entire oceanic ecosystem out of whack, and the global economy will suffer most. The effects can already be seen on the U.S. eastern coast, where the Cow-Nosed Ray, lacking it's natural predator, has seen a population explosion that has left the Bay Scallop industry battered and bleeding from every orifice.

The news is not all grim though. All over the world there are local and national efforts to outlaw both the practice of finning and the sale of the grisly product itself. In many places, the movement has grown larger, with the end result being a Shark Sanctuary where any commercial transaction involving sharks is illegal. Some are as small as provinces, such as Raja Ampat in Indonesia and the Galapagos Islands, while others are nationwide as in Palau and the Bahamas. Some have done so because the sharks bring in more money yearly for ecotourism than they would for simply being caught and sold as meat.

Though the entire oceanic ecosystem is under threat worldwide due to overfishing (another article for another day), sharks, in particular, deserve extra attention and protection because of their duties as an apex oceanic predator and the economic impact their loss would cause. In the Bahamas alone, tourists spend some $6,000,000 annually on the viewing of sharks. Ideally, a UN resolution would be passed against the awful trade, but with China on the Security Council, a veto would be guaranteed. It's up to local and national activism to fight against this cruel trade, and people worldwide seem to be slowly catching on.

Photo Credit: hewyk