Shark fin soup is considered a luxury in some parts of the world, but at what cost? Sharks are killed on an industrial scale for their fins, with around 70 – 100 million sharks killed every year.
Shark fin soup is seen as a luxury and prestigious dish and is often served at weddings and banquets. Although it has no taste, it is desired for its texture – somewhat sinewy apparently. Shark fin soup was much prized by Chinese emperors, but as there were so few of these, it never threatened shark populations until many more people became able to afford it.
Demand for shark fins will drive sharks to extinction, and it may cause important fisheries to close, accelerate coral reef decline and some species may become much more numerous whilst others may disappear.
What you should know
As the Eastern Asiatic countries, particularly China, develop their economies the new more affluent middle classes are looking for and can now afford what is considered to be luxury food – such as shark fin soup. Many people primarily in Eastern Asia now eat the soup and consequently, sharks are being killed at a completely unsustainable rate. Whilst some people may think – ‘so what, who needs sharks?’ – the answer is we all do.
The almost complete disappearance of large sharks from the Eastern seaboard of the USA has led to a collapse of the once prolific and profitable scallop industry. Why? The absence of large sharks has seen numbers of rays, especially cow-nose rays, increase rapidly, and what do they eat? Scallops. Now there are so few scallops, indications are that they will turn to clams and oysters. Similar effects have been shown to destroy coral reefs (fish that eat coral abound without shark predation) and sea grass beds (dugongs eat a lot more when there are no sharks about), and some key fish stocks are depleted when seal numbers increase. Thus the effects are widespread, and often unforeseen.
At these current rates large sharks may become extinct in many of the world’s oceans where they were once considered sustainable; many are fast reaching threatened status. The trouble is that if this happens, as can be seen from the current butchery of rhinos and elephants, the price for shark fin will increase and the few remaining sharks will be persecuted even more. The practice of shark finning kills 26 to 73 million sharks each year for their fins.
Once reserved as a delicacy and a sign of prestige in Asian cultures, shark fin soup consumption is on the rise. Because a bowl of soup can cost up to $100, the fins are the most economically valuable part of a shark. And since shark carcasses are bulky, take up space and are worth less money, the practice of removing the fins and throwing the bleeding carcasses overboard is far too common. This practice, known as “shark finning,” only uses between one and five per cent of the shark.
Furthermore, without the bodies, it is nearly impossible for fishery managers and scientists to accurately identify the species and determine the number of sharks that are being killed. Some fisheries directly target sharks as their intended catch, but other fisheries capture sharks incidentally as “by-catch”, a term used for unintended catch. Unwanted sharks are then thrown overboard, with many of them left dead or injured.
Trawl fisheries are responsible for the largest by-catch numbers in coastal areas, while long lines capture the majority of sharks as by-catch on the high seas. It is estimated that tens of millions of sharks are caught as by-catch each year, which is nearly half of the total shark catch worldwide. These startling numbers demonstrate the extreme threat that commercial fisheries pose to the survival of these top predators. Remarkably, by-catch estimates fail to appear in most fishery statistics, resulting in the continued mismanagement of shark by-catch.
What you can do?
- Campaign – to truly end shark finning by requiring that all sharks be landed whole with their fins still naturally attached
- Don’t use restaurants that offer shark fin on the menu to reduce the demand for shark products
- Don’t take boat trips that offer shark or other commercial fish stock trips
Where does this occur?
Shark fin soup is predominantly offered in China, Eastern Asia, Hawaii and Eastern United States.