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Fins are for Swimming, not Slicing: How is Shark Finning Destructive?

Updated: May 7

Many shark populations are steeply declining due to a cruel fishing method known as shark finning. The heinous practice of shark finning involves fishermen capturing live sharks, severing their fins, and discarding them back into the ocean. Stripped of their primary means of propulsion, helpless sharks are left to endure a slow death, either succumbing to suffocation as a result of their impaired respiratory function, bleeding out, or becoming prey to other marine predators.

Shark finning is especially horrific because the captured sharks are almost always awake and therefore feel the whole process. Such a form of fishing grew to popularity because shark fins are in high demand—especially in East Asian countries where shark fin soup is a delicacy. It is often served by upper-class hosts as a symbol of status, wealth, and power at high-end events. In contrast to highly desirable fins, shark meat is not in urgent demand. As a result, fishermen leave shark’s bodies behind, as their meat is not of economic value. 

Shark fin trading and shark fin soup has been banned in some U.S. states, including California, but this does not stop its illegal distribution.  Sales of shark fins often take place on the black market, and can be compared to underground drug trading, according to a National Geographic article (“Shark fin is banned in 12 U.S. states- but it's still on the menu”). In this article,  journalist Rachel Fobar interviewed William O’Brien, a marine warden from San Francisco, California. O’Brien shares that “I know [shark fin trading’s] going on, I know it’s out there. But it’s a very private matter—it’s not the kind of thing that, . . .people are selling to the public.”

Before shark fin was banned in California, the state had the second highest consumption of the product outside of Asia, according to a KQED article titled “Confusion in San Francisco’s Chinatown Over Shark Fin Ban”. California’s ban has striked a debate over whether a national ban would aid in curtailing illegal trades, or would only push it further into secrecy, as is evident in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It is also important to note the reasoning behind California’s and other U.S. states bans on shark finning. Shark finning is an incredible act of animal cruelty and is the culprit to rapidly declining shark populations.

According to the Animal Welfare Institute, it is estimated that 73 million sharks die each year due to shark finning. This, coinciding with other methods of fishing sharks, bycatch (accidental catching of an animal while fishing for another species), and the fact that sharks repopulate slowly have all contributed to the endangerment of many populations. This is detrimental because sharks are top predators as well as keystone species, and without them ecosystems are becoming unbalanced.

According to an example provided in an article by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), “if snapper and grouper become too numerous on coral reefs because of limited reef shark populations to prey on them, these mesopredator fish will overconsume their food source: algae-eating fish. Without adequate populations of algae-eating fish in the ecosystem, algae may take over, smothering and killing the coral”. This shows how without sharks as apex predators in these ocean ecosystems, many other organisms are negatively impacted, leading to an overall unhealthy ocean.

However, this does not mean that there is no hope.

There is a lot of action out there, including the Bay Area. People are coming together to bring an end to shark finning and heal our oceans. One of these many amazing groups include the San Francisco based organization called the Center for Ocean Awareness, Research and Education. Their fight against shark finning includes a campaign titled “Shark Friendly Communities” that heavily backs anti-shark finning legislation and promotes the creation of more conservation efforts. They also offer an incentive to companies to contribute to shark conservation by awarding them a Shark Safe® certification.

This Bay Area organization is just one of many amazing examples of ocean conservation and anti-shark finning movements around the world, and provides much hope to activists everywhere. 



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