Photo via jonrawlinson via Flickr Creative Commons
Shark finning is thankfully on more people's radar as intensely damaging to our oceans. Sharks are wiped out at a rate upwards of 70 million per year according to expert estimates -- far faster than they can possibly replace themselves. Yet as an apex predator, their presence is essential to a functioning marine ecosystem. The voices of those working to stop shark finning are getting louder, which means more education among consumers and more pressure on politicians to create effective bans and regulations. Advocate Sonja Fordham gave a wonderful interview with Yale Environment 360. Here are some highlights about what is happening to end the killing of tens of millions of sharks each year. Sonja Fordham founded Shark Advocates International after working with the Ocean Conservancy and Shark Alliance. Her new organization is working with scientists and conservationists to restore shark populations -- something not easy to do when they're disappearing by the millions.
Top Strategies for Ending Shark Finning
In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Fordham states that the primary strategies for restoring numbers includes setting catch limits on sharks, protecting threatened shark species, getting the public engaged and requiring sharks to be landed with their fins attached.
Photo by USFWS Pacific via Flickr Creative Commons
This last strategy is an important one, and one pushed by other advocates such as Randall Arauz, who has made huge strides in getting this practice observed in Costa Rica. The strategy helps limit the number of sharks killed at once for one simple reason -- a boat only has so much space. Typically, fishermen will catch a shark, cut off the fins and toss the (usually still alive) shark overboard. With only the fins to store, they have more room to kill more sharks. However, if they have to land the entire sharks, two things happen. First, they have room for far fewer sharks and second, it's easier for port officials to count how many sharks they're catching, which means much more accurate tallies for how many sharks are being killed overall, and that's important for focused conservation efforts.
Shark Finning Is a Sneaky Business
The problem right now is we know millions of sharks are disappearing, but no one can pinpoint a number because of how sneaky shark finners can be. Fordham states, "The best science-based figure is 26 to 73 million sharks" per year are finned. Most of those fins go to shark fin soup, an expensive dish (as much as $100 per bowl) but one that more and more Chinese people can afford in their booming economy.
Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch
In the interview, Fordham discusses the importance of boosting public opinion about sharks in order to pressure governments into action. She states, "Although people are becoming more enlightened about sharks, there are a lot of people who still remember "Jaws" and are afraid of sharks. And so there hasn't been a public clamoring for conservation, like you would have for dolphins or sea turtles. And that of course spills over into the government world, so governments haven't had much pressure to conserve sharks."
Celebrities And Government Helping To End Shark Finning
Thankfully, even celebrities are starting to get involved in advocating for shark conservation. Yao Ming has been a face for the cause for years, and as a celebrity from one of the countries doing the most damage for shark populations, it's a vital contribution.
While getting regulations on the board is a big battle, getting them enforced is an even bigger one. Fordham states, "The EU has banned shark finning, but their enforcement standards are among the most lenient in the world. They have a lot of loopholes in their shark-finning ban. For starters, the EU allows landing of shark fins and shark bodies in different places. You could drive a truck through that loophole."
Photo by radcarper via Flickr Creative Commons
This is where advocates may do the most good -- working with governments to tighten up regulations, and working with the organizations in charge of enforcing those regulations to ensure they're carried out. But it's tough work, especially when money is working against them. Fordham notes that fins can be worth between $125 and $415 per kilogram -- which means they're like gold for fishermen.
Still, it's not an impossible battle -- while Japan and China Help Defeat Shark Conservation Proposal at UN Meeting : TreeHugger">economics and anti-conservationists work against the cause, the opinion of the general public reigns supreme and that is shifting to favor shark conservation more and more.
Everyone Has Heard of Shark Finning, But It's Still Rampant
"When I talk to people on a plane, just about everybody has heard about shark finning. My arguments tend to be about waste and how finning can lead to unsustainable fisheries. But, clearly, a big thing people are concerned about is cruelty. Many people are appalled at the cruelty of finning live sharks and that is clearly a driving force in more and more countries adopting finning bans," says Fordham.
The entire interview is excellent and you can read the full version over at Yale Environment 360.
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