When people think of sharks, they generally picture enormous teeth, steely eyes, a bone-chilling fin above the water and the soundtrack of Jaws playing in their head. We rarely think of magnificent creatures that are crucial to the earth’s ecosystem. Unfortunately, the perception of sharks as evil man-eaters can sometimes blind us from their urgent need for preservation. This becomes an issue as shark fins have increasingly become a commodity.
Shark finning describes the process of removing shark fins and discarding the rest of the carcass back into the sea. The shark is usually still alive when thrown back and is left to drown and is eventually eaten alive by other species. This cruel practice has essentially created a multi billion dollar industry with a pound of dried shark fin valuing at $3000 or more. As a direct result, global shark populations have been severely diminished. More importantly, as top predators, their decrement causes an imbalance in the marine ecosystems they inhabit.
The California State Assembly Bill 376, which aims to ban the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins in California (through which 85% of U.S. shark fins are imported). It recently passed the California Assembly and is now in front of the State Senate for approval. Parties opposing similar bills have claimed that shark fin soup is a delicacy in Chinese culture and such a ban would unfairly target Asian cultures. However, I don’t believe this is a cultural issue. Numerous people in the Chinese community have attested that this delicacy was seen as a sign of prestige and luxury and not an actual part of their culture. In addition, such practices should constantly be evaluated and be open to change with evolving laws.
There is hope, however, for this endeavour. The state of Hawaii recently passed a similar bill. In January 2011, President Obama declared that sharks must be brought back to shore with their fins intact. Last month, Brantford, ON, became the first city in Canada to ban shark fin products. This summer, try to get involved with legislative matters that are driven by people like you, in order to influence policy!
Lastly, I’d like to leave you with a thought: The extent, to which human activity can drive the decline and endangerment of a species, forces me to consider what kind of “top predator” our species is.
Fun Fact: Did you know sharks were around before trees?