Sharks: Delicacy or Keystone Species?

Editor’s note: Sequoia wrote this article for her school newspaper. We hope you enjoy it, and then go get your Seafood Pocket Guide here, or download the Seafood Watch iPhone app.

On July 1, 2010, the state of Hawaii banned shark finning. It is no longer legal to own shark fins, fish for sharks, or sell shark in Hawaii. This is currently the strictest law in the United States, but it only applies to Hawaii. On both a national and international scale, shark finning remains a threat to sharks and our ocean ecosystems.

great white
Shark finning is a practice that involves cutting off a shark’s fins, then throwing it back into the ocean while the shark is still alive. The shark then dies through blood loss, drowning, or starvation. The fins are often made into shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy selling for as much as $100 dollars a bowl.

“Shark finning is inhumane- itʼs a cruel practice,” said Zack Bradford, an Ocean Policy Research Analyst at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “Youʼre catching and harvesting a whole lot of sharks for one part of the shark.” Nearly 89 million sharks are killed each year just for their fins. “It kills sharks for one small part of the body, and really isnʼt worth killing them for,” said Xenia Rangaswami, 8th grade.

Fishing guides has emphasized that to be profitable, shark finning requires many sharks to be killed, so shark populations around the world are declining. Since 1960, US populations of whitetip, smooth hammerhead, and bull sharks have decreased by about 99%. Experts estimate that within a decade, most species of sharks will be extinct or near extinction. This is a problem because sharks are important to help maintain a healthy ecosystem. They prey on sick or weak fish, which helps keep disease from spreading, and helps natural selection. “The harvest of shark fins leads to an over-fishing of sharks worldwide, which is having a large impact on the overall ecosystem,” said Mr. Bradford.

shark and reef
In 2000, a national bill was passed prohibiting shark finning in US waters, but there are two main loopholes that are allowing it to continue. The first is that fishermen can cut off the fins as long as they keep the body. Some fishermen keep the more valuable fins and carcasses, but throw back the less valuable ones. For instance, if one shark has valuable fins and another shark has a valuable body, a fisherman can keep the valuable fins and the valuable carcass and say they are from the same shark. The second loophole is that a boat can fish in international waters, and then give the fins to another boat that takes them to the US to sell. However, the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 would mend these gaps in the current law, prohibiting the possession of shark fins in the US. This bill has been passed in the House, but is currently stalled in the Senate.

Most eighth graders at Children’s Day School think shark finning should be banned nationally. Of 8 students surveyed, 6 were in favor of a ban. “I think it should be banned because first of all itʼs like if someone cut off your arm and threw you in the water to bleed to death, and second of all itʼs a very wrong thing to do,” said Mayra Alvarez, 8th grade.

If you want to protect sharks and our oceans, Zack Bradford suggests three steps:

    • Step 1: Donʼt eat shark– either meat or fins.
    • Step 2: Educate your friends and family about the impact of shark finning on sharks. Many people don’t realize that finning is decimating shark populations.
    • Step 3: Talk to policy makers, such as Senators and congressmen, and tell them that you care about sharks and want them to do more to protect sharks on an international scale.

Because the Shark Conservation Act is still being considered in the Senate, it is particularly important to call our US Senators and urge them to pass the bill. Call Senator Dianne Feinstein at (202) 224-3841 and Senator Barbara Boxer at (202) 224-3553.

smallest whale shark baby

“Itʼs a challenging issue here in the US,” said Mr.Bradford. “The challenge is to get the message to Asian communities, and get them to care about sharks.” However, Hawaii has a large Asian community, and still managed to ban shark finning. “For Hawaii it was quite a step to ban the possession of shark fins, period,” he said, “It would be great if we could do that everywhere in the US.”

One Response to “Sharks: Delicacy or Keystone Species?”

  1. Trish McCool says:

    Good Article Sequoia! A similar fate is that of the dolphins in Japan, as seen in the documentary “The Cove”.