The bad news and the good. What is happening to sharks around the world UPDATE

The numbers speak for themselves. Many shark species have declined in population by more than 90% in the last 50 years. Some species may have declined by as much as 97-99% in the last 35 years. In other words, as few as 1 out of 100 may be left of some species.

The bad news and the good. What is happening to sharks around the world UPDATE

While sharks are often caught accidentally (called by-catch), a global market exists for shark fins, the main ingredient in shark fin soup. Shark fins can fetch upwards $600 a pound, putting this critical species at the hands of human profit seeking.

The demand for shark fins is what drives almost all shark deaths. And because shark meat isn’t generally consumed, after their fins are cut off, sharks are usually thrown back into the water. Unable to swim and bleeding to death, they suffer a slow and torturous death.

Anyone who has seen videos or photos of shark finning knows that it is an absolutely cruel and horrific practice. Not only is it barbaric, but it is terribly unsustainable.

The good news is that governments around the world are taking action to protect sharks.  Tourism-based economies know well that sharks are often worth more alive than dead.  Sharks are not only valuable in keeping ecosystems healthy, but also because of the growing trend in shark-viewing tourism. Kill the sharks and you kill the tourism, sacrificing jobs for thousands of people in coastal communities.

In fact, the Pew Environment Group found that shark-related tourism contributes $18 million to the economy in Palau annually, brought in $110 million to the Thai economy in 2003, and has contributed $800 million to the Bahamian economy. In 2006, up to 25 percent of travel expenses from visitors to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia was attributed to shark tourism.

And while sadly up to 73 million sharks are killed every year just for their fins, we’ve seen some good news for sharks lately. Many states and nations around the world are taking bold action to stop the wasteful “finning” of sharks. Here are just a few highlights from this last year:

  • The Chilean National Congress just passed legislation that completely bans shark finning in Chilean waters.  Chile had previously become a major exporter of shark fins that are used for soup.
  • In July, the Bahamas joined Honduras, the Maldives and Palau in outlawing shark fishing. It is better in the Bahamas!
  • In January 2010, Hawaiian State Senator Clayton Hee blazed a new path in the Unites States by introducing SB 2169, a bill that would ban the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins in the State of Hawaii. After numerous amendments, the SB 2169 received overwhelming support, passing unanimously in the Hawaii Senate (25-0) and receiving only one single vote of opposition (50-1) in the House of Representatives.
  • The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) was the next to take up the battle with House Bill 17-94. The Bill passed unanimously in both houses (House: 17-0; Senate: 8-0), and was signed into law on 27 January 2011. Guam's legislature passed its version of the ban with Bill 44-31, voting unanimously (15-0), and Governor Eddie Calvo signed the bill into law on  March 9, 2011.
  • In the contiguous 48, Washington Senate Bill SB 5688 blazed through both houses, with the Senate's unanimous support (47-0), and near unanimity in the House (95-1). We applaud Washington State as their effort to ban shark fins has now been signed into law. 
  • Oregon's version of the Bill, HB 2838, enjoyed unanimous acceptance in its House of Representatives (44-0), as well as in its Senate (30-0). A second vote in the House after amendments were made had a similar positive result (passing 58-1).

The votes are in and the answer is clear: support is overwhelming and nearly unequivocal for banning the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning.  

So now we take the battle to California with Assembly Bill 376. You’d think the protection of sharks would be a shoo-in here, but I have to confess that there have been a few political hiccups in myGolden State. Some suggest this is because there are more substantial populations of Chinese-Americans and other Asian-Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Southern California, a population group among which shark fin soup is popular. As an American of Asian descent, I myself think the opposition is using this claim as a divisive distraction.

While it is understandable that some people are resistant to change, we’ve seen people of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds across California engage in the fight to protect sharks as part of theAB 376 legislative effort.

And awareness is an ongoing issue. COARE finds that many people who enjoy shark fin soup simply do not know 1) where shark fins come from, 2) the impact finning has on the environment, or 3) the harmful effects it might have on their health (thanks to methyl mercury and other accumulated toxins). If more people understood these things, and the critical role that sharks play in the ocean, I’d like to believe they would make the correct choice with little hesitation.

In fact, more people understand this issue in California than you might think. A poll conducted in California two weeks before the introduction of AB 376 found that the vast majority of California voters (82%) were concerned about the impact of shark finning. The numbers were even higher for Chinese-American voters (86%).  76 percent of all those surveyed, and 70 percent of the Chinese-Americans surveyed, supported a statewide ban on shark fins. Among Chinese-Americans, only 18 percent of voters opposed the ban and 12 percent expressed no opinion.

Together with states and nations around the world, we can take a big bite out of this cruel, deadly practice and protect sharks for generations to come.

Follow Francesca Koe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/free_dive

POSTED BY Brendon Sing founder of Shark Guardian