The Most Costly Bowl of Soup in the World
A thousand-year-old tradition, a symbol of prosperity, a show of respect and honor, a defense against cancer, and the bestower of many other health benefits all for only $65.00 per bowl at many Chinese food restaurants. However, the real cost of a bowl of Shark Fin Soup is so much more exorbitant. Shark fin soup is exactly what it sounds like, a soup made from the fins of sharks, and many Asian cultures' beliefs in the benefits of shark fin products are fueling the fin industry. The fins used in this "delicacy" are harvested via a horrific practice called finning which results in the death of the animal. Many shark populations around the world are suffering due to the demand for shark fin products resulting in overfishing. As shark populations diminish and vanish, the far-reaching impact will become more evident. Even though there have been some government agency interventions, such as catch limits and bans on shark fishing, it is not enough. Humanity must do its part to eliminate the practice of shark finning and overfishing before shark populations become extinct and the environmental impact of their loss is irreversible.
Many shark deaths are the direct result of human interventions, such as bycatching, overfishing, environmental changes from pollution, and climate change impacting their habitats ("Shark | Species | WWF"). Shark fisheries are by far the biggest culprit and alone they account for more than six and half million of the 100 million annual shark deaths. That number is more than likely a modest estimate and in actuality could be much higher due to under reported data for illegal catches. The majority of fishery deaths are the result of finning ("Dalhousie University" par. 4-6). Finning is when sharks are caught in nets, on fishing lines, speared, or by other methods and fishermen cut their fins off then throw the sharks back into the water alive where they sink to bottom and slowly suffocate or bleed out. The fins of sharks are harvested for human consumption, such as in shark fin soup. "And it's not just shark fin soup; sharks are also killed for their liver oil and cartilage, which is a kind of snake oil treatment that claims to cure cancer. In addition, the animal's meat is harvested for use as seafood filler in restaurants" (Antoniades, par. 8). Asian cultures are not solely responsible for the use of shark products, as many countries contribute by exporting ingredients used in shark fin soup and other shark fin products. Shark fins and these other shark products are perpetuating the overfishing of sharks, depleting the apex predators' numbers.
Many shark species are impacted by the finning process and overfishing. Numerous shark species are endangered or at risk of being endangered as a direct result of shark fisheries. The World Wildlife Fund reports that some of the main species of concern are the Whale Shark, Oceanic Whitetip, Porbeagle, and three different species of Hammerhead ("Shark | Species | WWF"). Also, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, there are over 440 species of sharks in the world and an astounding 201 of those are either endangered or at-risk of becoming endangered. There are plenty additional species of shark being impacted by overfishing and illegal fishing that have not yet made it on to these lists or do not have sufficient data available to make determinations of risk.
Bycatching also accounts for a significant decline in shark population and fisherman may take advantage of sharks unintentionally getting caught in their nets meant for other ocean species. "Sharks are often caught incidentally by fishing gear set for other types of fish-such as tuna longlines, trawls and seine nets..." ("Shark | Species | WWF"). The well-known Great White shark is just one of the protected species of shark that gets caught in fisherman nets unintentionally. Many shark species, such as the Great White, take longer to reproduce than most ocean species used for commercial consumption and man is taking more out of the worlds' oceans than what nature is putting back in. Aside from the cruelty inflicted on the victims and the wastefulness of finning, this is the most important reason to stop the practice. A journal article published by Dalhousie University discusses the sustainability (or lack thereof) of shark fisheries that support the shark fin soup industry. Shark fisheries cannot be sustained and eventually, possibly within this century, the world will feel the negative effects of the missing sharks.
The decline and possible extinction of shark species will have a detrimental environmental impact. Since the exact bearing of shark species decline on the environment can only be conjectured, the most easily observed may be the food chain. In an online article on Weather.com, Laura Dattaro writes about the effect a decrease of sharks in the ocean will have on other species "without enough sharks to eat such fish, like tuna, their populations can explode, which can lead to diminished populations of even smaller creatures, many of which feed on plants and algae" (Dattaro, par. 5). Sharks are the main apex predators in the world's oceans and play an integral part in the food chain of the ocean ecosystem. Their removal from this delicate system will likely have a domino effect all the way down to the bottom of the food chain.
While some of the data available is produced through research and scientific studies, it is impossible to accurately predict what may happen to all of the ecosystems impacted by sharks. Some commonly decided results of the disappearance of sharks are: predation of other species, unbalanced populations of other species, and habitat destruction. Discovering the ecological impact of shark population decrease may only lead to speculative data, even when reliable resources highlight the impact of declining shark populations on ecosystems. "The loss, especially of larger apex predators, could and has led to unexpected disruptions of ecosystems and non-shark fisheries" (Worm, et al. par. 29). In the end, this will impact those who rely on the shark fisheries and other ecosystems for their livelihoods.
Research also indicates a harmful change to animal habitats as a result of shark population deterioration. The Census of Marine Life refers to a journal article emphasizing the ecological effects of shark depletion based on a research study. There is an indirect correlation linking dirtier ocean waters to the change in populations of other ocean species that are directly linked to shark populations (Myers, et al.). An increase in algae can also be harmful to corals, killing them and leaving many species without a habitat at all (Dattaro). Effects on the habitats will in turn affect more wildlife populations, which will consequently have a greater impact the food web.
Shark finning and overfishing must be addressed to avoid the possibly catastrophic outcomes of life without sharks in the world's oceans. It may be difficult to know what should be done in order to prevent shark extinction. WildAid published a journal article indicating that awareness campaigns are having a positive impact on the demand for shark fin soup (Whitcraft, et al. p. 23). Another journal (Whitcraft, et al.) states that conservation efforts have decreased the demand for shark fin products, such as soups; even though the majority of information available and studies of shark populations indicate that shark finning is still occurring at an alarming rate. An interesting trend is the effect that celebrity endorsement and involvement in shark conservation has on the general population.
Campaigns and public service announcements that are backed by popular celebrities can generate an increased awareness as opposed to those just supported by scientists and unknown journalists. WildAid began an awareness campaign in 2006 and has had celebrity endorsements such as Hai Qing, a Chinese actress, and Yao Ming, a popular athlete. Evidence of Declines in Shark Fin Demand, China cites surveys given to Chinese people about their consumption of shark fin products before and after the shark campaigns (Whitcraft, et al.). A video called "Shark Bait" (Simpson) follows the famous chef, Gordon Ramsay, as he investigates the shark fin industry in London. He indicates strong negative opinions about the production and consumption of shark fin soup. These efforts seem to provide the general population with a willingness to join the famous people in their beliefs and an easier understanding of the issue at hand. There has even been a special on Showtime that features celebrities taking active roles in environmental preservation, including overfishing. If more people with influence were utilized in awareness campaigns and conservation efforts, a larger impact might be in made order to save dwindling shark species.
Many advocates against shark finning practices seek to have it banned completely. "Supporting proposed legislation for strict bans on the trade in shark fins and shark parts will greatly decrease the authorized and unauthorized prevalence...and will help safeguard the conservation status of the ocean's most important apex predator" (Sursara, par. 19). A list of locations around the world where shark finning and fishing are banned is provided in the journal article by WildAid (Whitcraft, et al. p. 10-14). Even though there are bans and restrictions in place to help prevent overfishing of sharks, the products made with their fins are still readily available. Many places that serve or sell the products are reluctant to discuss it. Laws, bans, and limits have been implemented for many other animal species and there have been improvements in some populations, however, often times the business is then operating illegally. Stricter laws may not have the result intended as long as there is still a demand and people are willing to pay for the fin products. According to information from Dalhousie University, the current regulations need to be enforced and increasing import and export taxes on shark products could result in a positive change. There are various things the average citizen can do to support conservation efforts. Of course, contributing financially to organizations such as WildAid and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species allows for the agencies to increase their efforts globally. One very important way to contribute to shark conservation is to make sure to get informed. Elissa Sursara reports in her online article, Are You Eating Shark Fin Soup Too?, that many consumers do not even realize they are contributing to the shark fin industry by inadvertently eating shark fin. It is important to know what you are consuming and many are unaware that when they eat Flake, they are eating shark fin. Sharing knowledge and promoting awareness is another way to help sharks.
So much is dependent on our oceans and removing sharks from the oceans can affect a change with unfathomable consequences. Having a clear understanding of shark finning, shark fisheries, the impact both have on shark populations, and the impact of decreasing shark populations on the environment will likely have a significant influence on our ability to protect these animals. It is imperative that they be recognized as integral parts of our world ecosystem and treated with respect. The end goal is to increase awareness and promote conservation of sharks. There are likely others out there who are unaware of what the human race is doing not only to sharks, but to our own future. As the dominant species of the world, humans might not feel the loss as quickly, especially because our ingenuity helps us discover ways around our changing environment. However, humanity will suffer the loss of so much more than shark species if this catastrophe is left unchecked.Works CitedAntoniades, Andri. "Shark Fin Soup Cause of Millions of Shark Deaths." TakePart.
Census of Marine Life. "Effects of Shark Decline." A Decade of Discovery, Marine Life Discoveries.
Dalhousie University. "Shark fisheries globally unsustainable: 100 million sharks die every year." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily. ("Dalhousie University" par. 4-6)
Dattaro, Laura. "An Ocean Without Sharks Is Bad for Everyone." The Weather Channel.
Kassel, Matthew. "Inside New York's Controversial Shark Fin Trade." Business Insider.
Mondo, Kiyo, et al. "Cyanobacterial Neurotoxin â-N-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) in Shark Fins." Marine Drugs, vol. 10, no, pp. 509-520.
Myers, R. A., J. K. Baum, T. D. Shepherd, S. P. Powers, and C. H. Peterson. "Cascading Effects of the Loss of Apex Predatory Sharks from a Coastal Ocean."
Simpson, Helen. "Gordon Ramsey: Shark Bait." YouTube.
"Shark | Species | WWF." World Wildlife Fund.
Sursara, Elissa. Take Part 2.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Whitcraft, S., Hofford, A., Hilton, P., O'Malley, M., Jaiteh, V. and P. Knights. Evidence of Declines in Shark Fin Demand, China. WildAid. San Francisco, CA. (Whitcraft, et al.)
Worm, Boris, et al. "Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks." Marine Policy, vol. 40, pp. 194-204.