Blog Tags: Shark Fin Soup
There’s a new estimate for how many sharks are killed each year by fishermen worldwide and the news is grim. Despite growing awareness of the threat sharks face and legislative efforts around the globe to stem the unsustainable harvest of sharks, a new study published this week in Marine Policy puts the number slaughtered each year at 100 million sharks, or three sharks caught per second.
Due to the incomplete nature of the data for shark catches, that number could be as low as 63 million or as high as 273 million, but both the high and low end estimates are outside of safe biological limits. According to the study’s authors, this number represents approximately 7% of all sharks in the ocean. On average, shark populations can grow at a maximum rate of 5% per year. As can be seen, shark populations cannot grow fast enough to sustain this enormous removal each year, which is why sharks numbers have declined so dramatically in recent years.
The primary culprit for this staggering level of exploitation remains the same: overfishing and bycatch, driven by the unabated demand for shark fin soup, the consumption of which is seen as a status symbol in China. The fin itself is a largely flavorless component of the soup and provides no additional nutritional value.
Sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing due to their slow growth, late maturation and small litters, with biological life histories that more closely resemble large mammals than other fish. Some sharks, like the Atlantic Ocean's dusky shark, do not mature until as late as 21 years of age and give birth to as few as three pups every three years.
Oceana is fighting to protect sharks around the world. Learn more about what we do.
With as many as a third of all shark species in the world facing some threat of extinction, the future of sharks has been in peril for some time now. This month, however, French Polynesia and the Cook Islands have taken a stand for sharks, creating adjacent shark sanctuaries covering 2.5 million square miles of ocean – an area nearly equal to the continent of Australia! With this move, French Polynesia and the Cook Islands join Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas, the Marshall Islands, and Tokelau as countries that have created shark sanctuaries, more than doubling the area worldwide now off-limits to shark fishing. This largest sanctuary in the world also bans the possession, sale, or trade of shark products within its boundaries.
On December 6, French Polynesia created the world’s largest shark sanctuary at 1.5 million square miles, and the neighboring nation of the Cook Islands followed suit on December 19 with its designation of its entire exclusive economic zone – an area equal to the size of Mexico at 756,000 square miles -- as dedicated shark sanctuary waters. “We are proud as Cook Islanders to provide our entire exclusive economic zone…as a shark sanctuary,” Teina Bishop, Cook Island minister of marine resources told BBC News.
You might have missed it, but over Thanksgiving Oceana won some major victories. One that we are especially excited about was the vote by the European Parliament to impose a strict ban on shark finning. While this ban has technically been in place since 2003 the new vote closes a crucial loophole by requiring all vessels in EU waters, as well as all EU vessels around the world, to bring their sharks to shore fins attached.
This is a major victory for Oceana, which has been pushing for the strict ban for years. It is also an especially big victory for sharks. The EU is the largest exporter of shark fins to China and Hong Kong in the world. Fishing the Atlantic, Indian, Mediterranean, and Pacific Oceans it has become the world’s top fisher of sharks.
The practice of shark finning is just as brutal as it sounds. Once captured, a shark is brought on board and its fins are sliced off. The finless shark is then discarded in the ocean, where it is left to struggle and die. Up to 70 million sharks are killed every year, mostly to serve the market for the Chinese status symbol delicacy, shark-fin soup. Sharks are slow-growing, late-maturing, long-lived and give birth to few young, making them unable to cope with such high levels of exploitation.
By requiring the sharks to be brought on board fins attached fishermen are unable to stockpile huge numbers of fins in their holds and the number of sharks that can be killed on any one trip is dramatically curtailed.
The European Parliament is set to vote next week on a complete ban of shark finning for the EU fishing fleet. EU fishermen currently span the globe fishing for sharks, from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, to the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, ranking second in shark catch globally.
Predictably, the move has drawn the hackles of the fishing industry which claims that the ban will cost them more than €9 million. This might seem like a lot--that is, unless, you take into account the fact that boats authorized to cut off shark fins have received more than €117 million in EU subsidies from 1994 to 2007. As executive director of Oceana Europe, Xavier Pastor says about the measure:
“European tax payers have invested a huge sum of money in these fishing vessels. They paid to help build them, modernise them, and support them while they headed off in search of new fishing grounds for sharks. Now, Europe is asking these vessels to commit to sustainable fishing practices for the sake of both the sharks and the future of the fishing sector.”
Shark finning, as the name implies, is the brutal practice of slicing off a shark’s fin and then discarding the shark, which is often still alive, overboard, where it is left to die. It is estimated that more than 70 million sharks every year are killed, mostly to supply growing demand in Asia for shark fin soup. While the shark fin itself is a mostly flavorless component of the dish, its conspicuous consumption at weddings, banquets and business meetings has become a status symbol for the region’s growing middle class.
We'll keep you posted as the story unfolds!
With the session ending in just three days, Delaware may become the first East Coast state to ban the shark fin trade. HB 324, the bill banning the sale, trade, possession and distribution of shark fins throughout the state, has already passed the Delaware State Assembly and it’s now up to the Senate to finish the job.
Shark fins are primarily used for shark fin soup, a delicacy in many Asian communities. This demand for shark fins, however, drives the cruel practice of shark finning, slicing a shark’s fins off and throwing the body overboard. This bill would decrease the demand for fins, and prevent Delaware from becoming a state used to transport fins to larger markets in other East Coast states, like New York.
Some species of sharks have declined by as much as 99 percent, mainly from the demand for shark fins. As the top predators in the ocean food chain, sharks help keep our oceans in balance.
The importance of passing a shark fin ban bill in Delaware is a small step in a bigger picture. Other states that have enacted laws banning shark fin sales include California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, and similar legislation is awaiting Governor Pat Quinn’s signature in Illinois.
Oceana commends the Delaware State Assembly on their important action to save sharks, and calls upon the Delaware Senate to do the same!
New York state is the largest importer of shark fins on the East Coast, but if a new bill passes, this fact could be history.
This trade is driven by a demand for shark fin soup, which can sell for hundreds of dollars. Sadly, shark numbers are dropping worldwide due to relentless fishing for fins, and in many places sharks have their fins cut off while still alive (a cruel practice called “finning”). Finning is illegal in the United States, but the demand for fins in New York and elsewhere in the US add to the pressure. Imported fins can come from countries with less regulations, and many shark populations in the US are dropping dangerously low, with some hammerhead populations falling as much as 98%.
But New York is considering a bill that would ban the trade of shark fins within the state, and we’re so excited to announce that it’s moving forward! After a huge push by Oceana and other shark supporters, which included thousands of your signatures and personal pleas from Leonardo DiCaprio and January Jones, both the Senate and Assembly committees passed the bill. Now it’s up for a vote in the Assembly and Senate. But the New York legislation session ends this week, which means they have to act soon.
We’re still gathering signatures to send to New York legislatures. Please sign today and pass the petition along to your friends. The world’s sharks need you.
When you think of Illinois, “shark fins” may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But this inland state does have a shark fin trade, and it may soon be history.
After Oceana collected over a thousand signatures from concerned Illinois citizens this week, the Illinois Senate voted to pass a shark fin ban in the state. The bill is now heading to Governer Pat Quinn’s desk, awaiting his signature. If it passes into law, Illinois will be the first non-Pacific (and first inland!) state to ban shark fins in the United States.
Why is this an important issue for Illinois? Chicago is a hub for shark fins in the Midwest, and lawmakers are concerned. Shark fins are considered an Asian delicacy, and one fin can sell for several hundred dollars. This creates a lucrative business for shark fishermen, some of whom use a cruel practice called “finning”—cutting the fins off a live shark and then throwing the bleeding animal overboard to die. Finning is illegal in U.S. waters, but fins sold in the U.S. may be imported from countries that allow finning. And even in the U.S., shark populations are struggling, with some populations having declined by 90%.
Every shark fin sold contributes to the disappearance of our sharks. We’re so happy that the Illinois legislature is recognizing the danger to our oceans, and we hope that Governor Quinn signs the bill and makes Illinois a Midwest leader for our oceans.
Manta rays are one of the most fascinating and unique ocean creatures. As the largest of all the rays, giant manta rays can reach up to 22 feet.
But we have been shocked to discover that Alibaba.com, the world’s largest business-to-business commerce website, with over 65 million registered users, is selling manta ray leather. We are asking you to sign a letter to the president and founder of Alibaba.com to urge this company to stop selling manta ray products.
Today, the world’s manta rays are in trouble, because fisheries are pushing many populations toward collapse. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies giant mantas and reef mantas as “vulnerable,” to extinction, and the trends for the majority of manta populations remain unknown.
What’s driving the development of fisheries for manta rays? These animals are prized for several body parts, including their skin, which is made into “leather,” their gill rakers (bony structures inside their gills), which are ground to a powder for traditional Chinese medicine, and their cartilage, which is used as a filler in shark-fin soup. Demand for manta ray parts continues to rise, even though there are available substitutes for manta ray leather, gill rakers have been found to have no medicinal qualities, and cartilage adds no flavor to shark-fin soup.
Only once these products are taken off the market and the overall demand from manta ray parts is reduced do these vulnerable animals have a shot at recovery.
In spite of their formidable size, these ocean giants are not to be feared: they are gentle plankton-feeders that spend their time gliding peacefully through the open ocean of the tropics. There are two species of manta rays, and the chance to see an individual in the wild draws scores of tourists each year to manta ray “hotspots” in locales such as Hawaii, Micronesia, and Mozambique.
Like their shark relatives, manta rays are long-lived and mature slowly. They give birth to live pups every two to three years. These characteristics make manta rays extremely susceptible to overfishing, because populations can be fished out faster than they can be replaced. And once a manta ray population is depleted, it may take decades for full recovery to occur.
Today, the Maryland state Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on numerous bills including a bill that would ban the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark and ray fins.
This bill will help protect global shark populations by reducing the demand for their fins. Each year, tens of million sharks are killed so that their fins can be used in shark fin soup. In the United States, the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning is illegal. However, many fins are imported from all around the world, contributing to the demand for shark fins and the overfishing of sharks.
Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and California have already passed similar laws, and bills have also been introduced in New York, Illinois, Florida, and Virginia. Oceana supports Maryland’s initiative and asks that state residents do so as well.
Please show your support by telling your legislator to vote for SB 465!
The good news just keeps rolling in for sharks – this time from Toronto and Taiwan.
Yesterday the Toronto City Council voted to ban the sale and use of shark fins in the city; the ban will take effect in September 2012.
Meanwhile, Taiwan has announced its intention to ban the practice of shark finning starting next year, a step forward in promoting the sustainable fishing and humane treatment of sharks. Shark finning is the practice of cutting the valuable fins off of sharks, and throwing the dead or dying body back in the ocean. Shark fins are used to make shark fin soup, a popular and expensive dish that is served primarily in China and Taiwan.
While the new regulation won’t stop the catching of sharks, it will mean that boats have to bring the whole shark in to port. This means that the species and size of the caught sharks can be monitored, and therefore can help assess the trends in populations.
While this is a step in the right direction, it is important to reduce the demand for shark fins as well. Up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for the global shark fin trade, and according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 20 percent of all sharks are threatened with extinction.
That’s why Oceana works to save sharks from overfishing. You can help by supporting our work to protect sharks!
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