Shark fin soup can even be found canned, in Chinatown in Honolulu. Photo via istolethetv via Flickr CC
Shark fin soup is one of the primary reasons why sharks are disappearing from our oceans at frightening rates. The nearly tasteless fins are carved from live sharks - their bodies tossed overboard to drown - and sold for huge bucks. A single bowl of shark fin soup can go for as much as $150. But the cost to the environment is far greater. Sharks are being finned by the millions, with estimates of around 89 million sharks dying per year for their fins. But one state in the US is finally doing something about it. Hawaii has made serving shark fin soup illegal, with big fines attached to offenses. Could Hawaii be setting a shark-saving precedent, or does the move lack teeth?
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MSNBC writes, "Gov. Linda Lingle on Friday signed a bill prohibiting the possession, sale or distribution of shark fins. The bill passed the state House and Senate with broad support earlier this year... Restaurants serving fins will have until next July to run through their inventory. After that, those caught with fin will have to pay a fine between $5,000 to $15,000 for a first offense. A third offense would result in a fine between $35,000 to $50,000 and up to a year in prison."
On the one hand, shark fin soup is a cultural food dish, a delicacy and status symbol. On the other hand, the food is wiping out populations of animals vital to our oceans ecosystems. Making the practice of selling shark fin soup illegal could potentially diminish the consumption of shark fins, but it could simply push shark fins onto the black market, boosting the price without diminishing the number of animals killed.
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The two most important parts of this move will be 1) enforcing it and 2) getting it to spread to other major areas where shark fins are sold.
"The law's power may be primarily symbolic given Hawaii is a small market for shark fin, especially compared to Hong Kong. The IUCN estimates Hong Kong handles at least 50 percent and perhaps 80 percent of the world's shark fin trade. Carroll Cox, president of the Hawaii-based group EnviroWatch, hopes the governor makes enforcement a high priority. Other countries will also have to commit to limit the shark fin trade for any restrictions to have an effect, he said."
Activists around the world are working hard to expose the depth of the damage of shark finning. Randall Arauz recently won a Goldman Environmental Prize for his work in shinning a light on the devastation of shark finning in Costa Rica. He has pushed for rules that go farther than simply banning soup from restaurants; one type of legislation that can help is requiring fishermen bringing in shark fins to bring in the entire shark, not just the fins. Fewer sharks can be caught if the entire body is taking up room and adding weight to a boat, and it is easier to count how many sharks are being killed. Of course, again, the issue is enforcing these rules. With a commodity worth so much money, ensuring legislation is followed and offenders punished is incredibly difficult.
More on Shark Finning
Thousands of Sharks Still Have Their Fins, Thanks to Randall Arauz
Shark Extinction Possible Simply From Too Much Soup
New Study Finds Half a Million Sharks Are Finned Every Year in Ecuador
Buy a $100 Billboard with Yao Ming on It, Save Sharks from Finning (Video)