Photo via rumpleteaser via Flickr CC
China, Japan, Russia and a handful of other countries are at the heart of a defeat of a proposal that would have benefited sharks by requiring increased transparency in the shark trade. Finning - the practice of cutting off just the fins of sharks and throwing the rest of the shark, often still alive, back overboard for a slow death and wasteful treatment of a food source - is responsible for killing somewhere between 40 million and 100 million sharks per year (the latest estimate from Oceana is 73 million per year). No one really knows because the practice isn't well tracked, and is often done illegally. So while the species collapses, the members of the UN meeting on shark conservation debate and ultimately make zero progress to protect one of the most important animals in our oceans. The defeat of this measure - far less controversial and easier to enforce than others on the table at the week-long meeting - is a bad sign for our oceans, and us. CBS News reports that the nonbinding measure simply called for increased transparency in the shark trade, as well as more research into the threat posed to sharks by illegal fishing. It needed two-thirds majority vote, but unfortunately supporters, including the US and European Union weren't able to drum up enough votes.
The critics said it would be harmful to poor nations, however that is an intensely shortsighted view. Studies have shown that hundreds of millions of people depend on coral reefs for food an income - a roughly $172 billion dollar industry - and that healthy coral reefs are dependent on shark species. And we don't even need to get started on how important they are to healthy fisheries on which our fishing industry depends. In the long run, we absolutely need sharks, but we can't even pass a measure that requests more transparency in their trade.
It's no surprise that China is a critic of the measure - it is, after all, home of shark fin soup. Hong Kong alone imports around 10 million kilos of shark fin annually from up as many as 87 different countries. It'd be an economic hit to the country to be more diligent about shark fin trading...but only on the short term. Without strong measures, there will very, very soon be no sharks at all left to trade.
According to Yahoo news, "The Chinese delegation said there was no scientific evidence that the shark's survival is threatened and CITES was not the right forum to handle the issue. The Chinese would prefer to leave regulation to existing tools like the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and regional bodies which conservationists argue have failed to crackdown on illegal fishing and even uphold their own modest quotas."
If that doesn't make your jaw drop open, we aren't sure what will.
More controversial marine measures, including the ban on bluefin tuna, are on the table for the two week meeting. If a measure written this mildly can't pass, it's a bad sign for our seas. Luckily, around eight shark species are being considered for CITES listing and that means there will be at least some controls over their export beyond what this measure had called for.
More on Shark Finning
Buy a $100 Billboard with Yao Ming on It, Save Sharks from Finning (Video)
What do Sharks Have to do With Sustainable Seafood?
Maldives Declares All Its Territorial Waters a Shark Sanctuary