Tens of millions of sharks, large and small, are slaughtered each year for their fins.
Sharks are among the oldest species on Earth, having survived for hundreds of millions of years. Yet now, thanks in part to certain culinary habits, they may find themselves going extinct after all this time.
Tens of millions of sharks, large and small, are slaughtered each year for their fins. The fins are used as ingredients in shark fin soup, which is considered to be a delicacy in Chinese and other Asian cultures. In a practice called shark finning, live sharks are caught so their fins can be sliced off, whereupon thus mutilated fish are thrown overboard in order to die a slow and painful death in the sea.
Not only is this practice cruel but it’s also harmful and not just to the sharks themselves but to entire marine ecosystems. Sharks often serve vital roles in these ecosystems as top predators. They keep fish stocks healthy by preying on weak, old and diseased specimens.
Yet each year more than 70 million sharks are killed by people for their fins; some experts have estimated the number to be as high as 100 million sharks per year. Sharks belong to around 440 species, but the relentless slaughter has caused a quarter of shark species to be threatened or outright endangered.
In China, Hong Kong and across much of Southeast Asia shark fins remain on the menu. Efforts have been made, and successfully so, to convince hotels and restaurants to stop offering it, which is widely seen as a status dish by many customers.
Encouragingly, more and more countries are seeking to enact wholesale bans on shark fins. Canada has now become the world’s first country to ban the import and export of all fins, thanks to Bill S-238, an amendment to the fisheries act which places a “ban on Shark Fin Importation and Exportation.”
Shark finning has been illegal in the North American nation since 1994, yet outside of Asia Canada has long been the largest importer of shark fins. Last year alone 160,000 kilograms of fins were imported to Canada from around the planet.
“Today is a great day for our oceans. The overhauled Fisheries Act has the potential to be one of the most transformative things that has happened for our oceans in many years,” says Josh Laughren, executive director of Oceana Canada, a marine conservationist group. “The act now lays a strong foundation to support healthy oceans for generations to come.”
Selling or even possessing shark fins has also already been outlawed south of the border in a dozen states in the U.S., including California, Hawaii, New York and the U.S. territory of Guam. Shark fins soup has likewise been banned in several European countries.
However, despite considerable progress in recent years in taking shark fins off the menu, they continue to be consumed wholesale in Hong Kong and elsewhere in China. Yet, giving into pressure from environmentalists, several prominent restaurants in Hong Kong have promised to stop offering the dish by next year.