Shark fin soup is the greatest danger presented to sharks. Shark fin soup accounts for the deaths of around 70-100 million sharks every year. There is no specific species targeted for shark fin soup, so it is a threat to every type of sharks. Though a traditional Chinese dish consumed only on special occasions, with globalization shark fin soup is becoming more popular all over the world. This popularity is putting sharks at risk of extinction which could severely damage the health of our oceans.
Traditional History Of Shark Fin Soup
In China, shark fin soup originated during the Ming dynasty around the 14th Century. Initially it was a rare delicacy only enjoyed by the nobility and aristocracy. Sharks were rare and hard to catch so it was only served on special occasions and to honored guests. It was considered one of the eight treasured foods of the seas and signified wealth, power, and prestige. However during the Qing Dynasty, in the 18th and 19th centuries, shark fin soup began to be consumed by more people. As commercial fishing and trade increased the quality of lives of even rural peasants, shark fin soup became a highly sought after and a more available food.
Shark Fin Soup As Traditional Medicine
The popularity only increased as shark fin soup became part of Chinese traditional medicine. Shark fins are believed to prevent cancer, heart disease, and lower cholesterol. They are also thought to help rejuvenate the body, improving the quality of the skin. Shark fin soup is also used to help improve appetite and boost sexual potency. Some people even believe it to be beneficial to the health of kidneys, blood, lungs, bones, and other major organs. It is also believed to improve qi, or a person’s vital energy. There is no medical evidence to support that shark fin soup helps with any of these health concerns.
Demand For Shark Fin Soup
With its long cultural heritage and perceived medicinal value, the demand for shark fin soup has been steadily increasing. In 2001, demand for shark fins had double and grown steadily at 5% every year. This demand has increased as the Chinese middle class has grown. This demand has lead to the brutal slaughter of millions of sharks every year.
The Brutal Practice of Shark Finning
Every year an estimated 70-100 million sharks are caught for their shark fin. The practice of shark finning is incredibly cruel. Shark are caught with longlines, gillnets, and spears. The sharks are then brought onto the boat where without water, they begin to suffocate. The fisherman then cut off their fins, while the sharks are still alive. Finally, the shark are then thrown back overboard where they are left to slowly sink to the bottom of the ocean, where they will die of either starvation, blood loss, or will be eaten alive by seafloor predators like crustaceans. The practice of shark finning is wasteful and absolutely brutal.
Motivated By Profit
Why do people participate in such a cruel practice? The demand and prestige of shark fins make finning incredibly profitable. It is estimated that the global shark fin trade is valued at $1.2 billion dollars. Shark fins themselves cost $400 per kilogram. Exotic shark fins, like those of the whale shark or the basking shark can fetch anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 per fin.
Challenges To Conservation Efforts
Outside of shark finning being incredibly profitable, it is hard to get people to care about sharks. Many people are ignorant about the importance of sharks. A lot of people believe that sharks are dangerous to humans and should be killed. They also believe what happens in the oceans has no impact on us. Other people underestimate the problem, as it is only the wealthy and middle class Chinese that consumer shark fin soup, so they believe it is not that common. Mostly though, people are just afraid of sharks, so they don’t want to help.
Why Conservation Matters
Shark finning puts all types of sharks in danger of extinction. Sharks are apex predators, they are literally at the top of the oceanic food chain. Without sharks, the ocean food chain will be thrown off balance. Sharks act to keep marine life healthy by preying on weak, sick, or injured fish. They also help keep other predators from overtaxing fish populations. Finally, they reduce the threat of suffocating algae blooms by eating the fish that consume algae. Without sharks, the oceans would become toxic places and there would be massive extinction of fish species.
So far 27 countries have banned the practice of shark finning. Unfortunately though, most shark finning happens in international waters, so these efforts have done little to curb the practice. So some countries, like the European Union have made new laws that sharks have to arrive on shore intact, banning finning on board ships. This has been an incredibly effective law and has virtually ended all EU-based shark finning. Conservation groups have seen this success and are pushing for similar laws across the globe. Groups are also working to increase public awareness about the importance of sharks and why shark finning needs to stop.
Shark fin soup has a long and prestigious history in China. Shark fin soup is seen as both a status symbol and a medicinal food. However, the demand for shark fin soup is increasing and with the high value of shark fins, many fisherman are responding. Shark finning is an incredibly cruel practice that is decimating the vital populations of all types of sharks, so it must end. There have been some conservation efforts, some with great success like the bans in the EU. However there is still a lot of work if we are to protect sharks. The best thing you can do is be aware of this terrible practice and support any conservation efforts in your area so we protect our oceans.