Sharks Worth More in Ocean Than in Soup
In what is being hailed as an enormous victory for shark conservation, China recently announced its plans to ban the serving of shark fin soup at all government events. This popular Asian delicacy is commonly found at banquets and weddings, where a single serving can be sold for hundreds of dollars.
The problem with this pricey soup? Its main ingredient: shark fin.
What some may not realize is that this particular bowl of soup comes with huge consequences to our oceans. The demand for shark fins is so great that fishermen are encouraged to engage in shark finning, a process where sharks’ fins are sliced off and their bodies are thrown back overboard to drown and die. While shark finning is illegal in the United States, shark fins sold in the U.S. may be from areas with no finning restrictions.
As appalling as this practice is though, the real damage lies in the sheer number of sharks being killed each year, with estimates in the tens of millions, which has resulted in some populations declining by as much as 99 percent in recent decades. As apex predators, sharks play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems, and their disappearance could drastically change our oceans as we know them today.
However, the momentum to protect sharks is increasing. Recently, Illinois joined California, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii in banning the trade, sale, possession and distribution of shark fins. And opponents to shark finning in Canada are also making progress with a recent movement to ban shark fins in various municipalities throughout the country.
While environmentalists are applauding these efforts in North America and calling China’s actions a step in the right direction, continued education is desperately needed to increase awareness around the dangers of shark finning.
This rings particularly true for the coastal communities from which the fins are sourced. These shark abundant areas have a monetary incentive to keep sharks alive. Studies have estimated that one shark can be worth as much as $200,000 to the ecotourism industry over the course of its life. With proper management and a shift in local effort, a win-win situation for these coastal communities and the sharks can be realized.
Currently, 45 states in the U.S. still allow the sale and trade of shark fins, and demand is on the rise in an increasingly wealthy Asia. The good news is that you too can help by educating others on the issue, avoiding shark products, including shark fins and advocating for continued political action.
Beth Lowell is a campaign director at Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Visit www.oceana.org for more info.
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