Monday, July 21, 2008
Recently I watched the film Sharkwater, a documentary by Rob Stewart about the mythology of sharks, importance of sharks for the marine ecosystem, and the dangerous proliferation of shark finning. Why are shark fins so valuable? Succinctly, the high-priced delicacy known as shark fin soup.
In addition to being visually stunning, the documentary renewed my convictions of the ethical constraints involved with the human participation in the natural life cycles of life and death. To me, philosophers such as Paul Taylor and Albert Schweitzer crystallize the idea of compassion and respect towards nature to which we should be striving. Ethics, according to Schweitzer, consists in the compulsion to show toward the will-to-live of each and every being the same reverence as one does to one's own. With this simple statement in mind, watch Sharkwater and judge for yourself whether we fulfill or fall short of this goal.
What is Shark Finning?
Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins and the discard at sea of the carcass. The shark is most often still alive when it is tossed back into the water. Unable to swim, the shark slowly sinks toward the bottom where it is eaten alive by other fish.
Shark finning takes place at sea so the fishers have only the fins to transport. Shark meat is considered low value and therefore not worth the cost of transporting the bulky shark bodies to market.
Any shark is taken-regardless of age, size, or species.
Longlines, used in shark finning operations, are the most significant cause of losses in shark populations worldwide.
Shark finning is widespread, and largely unmanaged and unmonitored.
Shark finning has increased over the past decade due to the increasing demand for shark fins (for shark fin soup and traditional cures), improved fishing technology, and improved market economics.
Shark specialists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, annually.
One pound of dried shark fin can retail for $300 or more. It's a multi-billion dollar industry.
Impacts of Shark Finning
Loss and devastation of shark populations around the world. Experts estimate that within a decade, most species of sharks will be lost because of longlining.
Unsustainable fishery. The massive quantity of sharks harvested and lack of selection deplete shark populations faster than their reproductive abilities can replenish populations.
Threatens the stability of marine ecosystems.
Loss of sharks as a food staple for many developing countries.
Local waters are invaded by large industrial, foreign fishing vessels that threaten traditional sustainable fisheries.
Threatens socio-economically important recreational fisheries.
Obstructs the collection of species-specific data that are essential for monitoring catches and implementing sustainable fisheries management.
Wasteful of protein and other shark-based products. Up to 99 per cent of the shark is thrown away.
Are there laws against shark finning?
Each country with a coastline is responsible for laws and regulations pertaining to fishing in their waters.
A number of countries have shark-finning legislation. Many stipulate that fins must arrive in a 5 per cent weight ratio of the shark carcasses onboard. Only a few countries demand that sharks arrive in port with fins attached.
According to the IUCN Shark Specialist group, the easiest way to implement a ban is to require that shark carcasses be landed with fins attached. The possession of fins alone on vessels would thus be illegal.
Shark finning violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
Shark finning is contrary to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's International Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.
The United Nations Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) lists the whale shark, basking shark, and great white shark as species that could become threatened if trade is not controlled. To date, 169 countries have agreed to be legally bound by CITES.