Are Sharks Endangered Because Of Shark Fin Soup?
Many people fear sharks, when the reality is they have far more reason to fear us!
As one writer put it perfectly: , “sharks are winding up on our dinner table more often than we do on theirs”.
To such an extent that we humans are basically decimating sharks.
The shark-fin market is a huge threat to the world’s shark populations. It has become a multibillion-dollar industry since the early 1980s.
Demand exploded with the rapid growth of China’s economy. Before then sharks weren’t really targeted by fisheries, but over those 30 years, many species have become threatened.
True catch numbers are a mystery because much of the trade happens on the black market.
On top of the conservation impacts, the methods for taking fins are cruel.
“Shark-finning” is the practice of chopping off a shark’s fins, and dumping the often-live animal back into the sea. No longer able to swim, the injured shark then drowns, bleeds to death, or is an easy target for predators.
What drives this is the high price of shark fins on the international market. They have become one of the world’s most precious products.
Shark meat itself isn’t very valuable, so it is usually thrown overboard. Other parts that are used include skin, liver oil, cartilage, corneas, and blood.
Often shark parts are put into medicines and supplements.
The fins fetch the highest price. A pound of shark fin can cost $300. And depending on which numbers you believe, people will pay from a hundred dollars up to $2,000 for a bowl of shark fin soup. For soup!
The shark fin industry’s center is Hong Kong, but shark catches come from worldwide. Countries that take the most sharks include Indonesia, India, Mexico, Spain, and Taiwan.
A team of researchers recently got past the mystery of numbers involved in the shark fin trade. They made the first estimate of shark catches that was independent of world fisheries data (Clarke et al. 2006).
To do so they combined official catch data with weights of fins from fin auctions in Hong Kong, for more accurate estimates.
They concluded that the amount of shark biomass (weight) involved in the fin trade is three to four times higher than what is reported.
Estimates of the total number of sharks traded for fins worldwide ranged from 26 to 73 million per year. Clearly, sharks are being over-exploited.
Marine ecosystems have complex food webs. Sharks are top predators; altering their numbers has a big impact on other species that “cascades” through the entire system.
As shark numbers decline, their prey species have increased (e.g. rays), who in turn are taking more of their own prey (e.g. scallops). As a result, many species of mollusks are rapidly declining.
Researchers are also seeing the ripple effects of dramatic shark declines in the Caribbean. Fish usually eaten by sharks are now increasing in number, such as groupers.
Those predators feed on parrotfish, which in turn eat algae off coral reefs. The result? Too many groupers = too few parrotfish = too much algae.
This is altering marine systems by limiting the resources available to all species that depend on coral reef habitats.
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Pass it on: New Scientist