Monday, January 07, 2013


An environmental activist holds a picture of a dead and finned shark next to shark fins drying in the sun covering the roof of a factory building in Hong Kong on January 2, 2013.


Every year tens of millions of sharks die a slow death because of finning. Finning is the inhumane practice of hacking off the shark's fins and throwing its still living body back into the sea. The sharks either starve to death, are eaten alive by other fish, or drown (if they are not in constant movement their gills cannot extract oxygen from the water). Shark fins are being "harvested" in ever greater numbers to feed the growing demand for shark fin soup, an Asian "delicacy".

Not only is the finning of sharks barbaric, but their indiscriminate slaughter at an unsustainable rate is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Since the 1970s the populations of several species have been decimated by over 95%. Due to the clandestine nature of finning, records are rarely kept of the numbers of sharks and species caught. Estimates are based on declared imports to shark fin markets such as Hong Kong and China.

 As the New York Times reports,

Shark fins are the main ingredient of a soup that is widely regarded a status symbol in Chinese culture and a must-serve at important events and celebrations like weddings. As I have reported in the past, the dried fins sell for several hundred dollars a pound. Often they are sliced from sharks that are then thrown back into the sea to die.

The Chinese  NGO Green Beagle recently checked out 124 top of the charts Beijing restaurants and are less then happy to report that only one of them refuses to serve shark fin.  Sharks are not a protected species in China and there are no laws regulating consumption of shark fin.

China is the world's largest importer of shark fin. Various Chinese groups are campaigning for a ban on the sale of shark fin for a variety reasons including: the inhumane methods of acquisition, the critically endangered state of the species, and high heavy metal content. 

  In Chicago, a ban on shark fin soup went into effect on New Year's Day.  Shark fin bans are also in place in Hawaii, Washington, California and Oregon.  China announced last year that shark fin soup would no longer be served at official state banquets.  

In November, The European Union joined the United States, Canada, Brazil, Namibia, South Africa in banning the practice of shark finning, but a growing Chinese upper class has kept demand for the fins high, and the price has reached $300 per pound.

At the epicenter of all this is Hong Kong.
Photos shot in Hong Kong in the New Year show more than 18,000 shark fins drying on the roofs of industrial buildings. The astonishing images present just a fraction of the haul that kills an estimated 75 million sharks each year in order to obtain their highly valued dorsal fins.

The Animal Planet describe shark finning as a "brutal practice."

 A shark is caught, pulled onboard a boat, its fins are cut off, and the still-living shark is tossed back overboard to drown or bleed to death.  The wasteful, inhumane practice is done to satisfy a demand for shark fins, which can fetch as much as $300 per pound. The meat, on the other hand, is far less valuable, so fishermen toss it overboard to save space for more fins.

The Animal Planet also asks some questions and then answers them:

How Serious A Threat is Shark Finning?

Finning is responsible for the death of between 88 million to 100 million sharks every year. Exact numbers are unknown because the practice is illegal in many places and hauls aren't accurately counted. Because sharks are at the top of the food chain and have few predators, they reproduce and mature slowly. That means their numbers are slow to replenish when a population is overfished. At the rate humans are going, we're set to wipe out sharks entirely in as little as 10-20 years.

What Happens If Sharks Die Out?

Sharks are an apex predator. Apex predators are invaluable for keeping the populations of everything else in the food chain in balance. The oceans depend on them to keep the numbers of other fish and mammal species in check and weed out the sick, injured and dying so that populations of fish stay strong and healthy. Without sharks -- from bottom feeders all the way up to Great Whites -- the balance of the ocean's food chain is in danger.

This is not just a guessing game, either. We've already seen the impact a loss of sharks can have on an ecosystem. According to Shark Savers, a scientific study conducted in the mid-Atlantic part of the United States showed that when 11 species of sharks were nearly eliminated, 12 of the 14 species those sharks once fed on became so plentiful that they damaged the ecosystem, including wiping out the species farther down the food chain on which they preyed. The negative effects trickle out as the ecosystem gets thrown out of balance.

 Randall Arauz who won a Goldman Environmental Prize for his work in showing the extent of the damage done to shark populations on Costa Rica and getting policies changed that favor sharks, at least to some extent laments, " 

Shark finning is not only cruel, it is irresponsible and unsustainable fishing at its highest degree. In spite of this, it has been close to impossible to attain any international binding management and conservation measures to curtail this practice.

The following article and the disgusting photo that goes with it comes from China Dialogue.

Thousands of shark fins found drying on rooftop in Hong Kong

Tom Levitt

AFP photographer finds as many as 20,000 shark fins drying on rooftop of an industrial building in Hong Kong.
article image
Hong Kong is one of the world's biggest markets for shark fins, viewed by many as a rare delicacy (image by Gary Stokes/Sea Shephard)


A photographer for international news agency AFP has captured shocking images of thousands of shark fins drying on a factory rooftop in Kennedy Town, on the west side of Hong Kong island – once again putting the spotlight on the shark fin trade.

More than 100 of the world's shark species are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of endangered species. The conservation group Wild Aid estimates that 73 million sharks are killed each year, thrown back into the water to bleed to death after their fins are cut off .

Despite the concerns, shark fins are seen by many as a rare delicacy for use in soups and on special occasions. They are still widely available in restaurants across China. 

Since the first records of its consumption in the Ming dynasty, shark fin has been a delicacy for the rich and powerful. As chinadialogue has reported, it is still a favourite of those groups today – and is sometimes associated with the corrupt use of public money for wining and dining.

Ironically, as others have explained, shark fin is not particularly nutritious. It is made up of thin strips of cartilage and has no flavour of its own, nor special nutritional value. It mainly consists of collagen, an incomplete protein as it lacks the essential amino acids tryptophan and cysteine. It is much less nutritious than shark meat, which is a complete protein.

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