Sharks are ancient creatures, having roamed our blue planet’s oceans for more than 450 million years. They are older than dinosaurs and even trees. Yet in just the last half-century, oceanic shark and ray species have declined by 71%. Why? Because humans have overfished them — in large part due to the unsustainable global shark fin trade.
Fins from up to 73 million sharks enter the international market each year — many destined for China and other countries where shark fin soup remains a delicacy.
Last year, Oceana and our allies won multiple hard-fought victories to protect sharks, including banning the fin trade in the United States and a new law in Peru that made illegal wildlife trafficking punishable under the country’s Law for Organized Crime. This will empower prosecutors with more strategies, including imposing heavier penalties, to dismantle criminal networks of shark fin trafficking in the country. The United Kingdom also banned the import and export of shark fins last year. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’s (CITES) “Appendix II” was also updated to give over 60 species of sharks protected status to cover nearly all the species found in the global shark fin trade.
Despite this progress, there are still many challenges that remain to end this cruel trade and save sharks, which is aptly showcased in a new documentary from Al Jazeera’s “Fault Lines” program.
The film, titled “Tracking One of the World’s Bloodiest Trades: The Shark Fin Hunters,” first follows Evelyn La Madrid — an environmental prosecutor who is leading investigations into the illegal shark fin trade in Peru. The filmmakers shadow La Madrid on a raid where she and her team discovered a major fin trading operation.
The Al Jazeera crew also travelled to Ecuador, where targeted shark fishing has been illegal for 20 years. Despite this ban, the documentary reports that “nearly 75% of the shark fins that are exported from Peru actually come from neighboring Ecuador.”
Following an interview with a smuggler from Ecuador, the filmmakers go undercover in New York City in search of (illegal) shark fin soup. Spoiler alert – they were successful.
The documentary is one worth watching and is a stark reminder of the work that remains to be done to protect the ocean’s top predator. In the United States, Oceana is calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service to increase meaningful enforcement of the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. In Peru, Oceana’s campaigning with our allies resulted in CITES sanctions, which ban all trade with Ecuador of shark and rays listed on CITES Appendix II. CITES authorities will also undertake a mission in Peru, which could result in the halting of all Peruvian exports of CITES-listed species that include many high value commercial products, like vicuñas and mahogany, if Peru does not comply with their recommendations.
The global shark fin trade doesn’t just hurt sharks. Dr. Alicia Kuroiwa, an Oceana Marine Scientist in Peru, explains to Al Jazeera, “What happens when you remove an apex predator from an ecosystem? The prey that were normally consumed or hunted by these predators begin to increase, to reproduce, and then they consume other things…It is going to change the species composition as we know it.” Put simply, sharks keep the oceans in check. Without them, entire marine ecosystems, and the people whose lives depend on them, are at risk. With your support, we will continue to win vital protections for sharks and dismantle the global shark fin trade.