Shark Population Declines Need to be Curbed Now

The scenario is all too common on fishing boats across the ocean — a shark is caught, its fins are sliced off, and it is dumped overboard to drown.

This wasteful and inhumane practice is increasing at a time when shark populations are in greatest jeopardy. As the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) meets in Rome this week to discuss the state of the world’s fisheries, a new report has revealed the dire situation of shark species worldwide. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year — largely to meet the rising demand for sharkfin soup, fueled by Chinese markets.

This report — a joint publication by Pew Environment Group and TRAFFIC — underscores the need for adequate international regulations on shark fishing in order to reverse this worrying trend.

It’s in everyone’s interest to curb the massive overfishing of sharks that is putting oceans at risk. Sharks may not be as “cuddly” as pandas, monkeys or other species often used as icons for the conservation movement, but they are remarkable creatures shaped over 400 million years of evolution to play a key role in regulating the health of marine ecosystems that ultimately sustain all life on Earth. In their role as apex predators, sharks keep the populations of species lower on the food chain in balance. As shark numbers plummet, their absence can set off a chain reaction across the ecosystem, which has already been documented in some places with disastrous economic impacts on coastal fishing communities.

Shark fins for sale in Hong Kong.

So what can we do? Part of the solution is the effective enforcement of rules designed to keep fisheries healthy and productive — including anti-finning rules, which our Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape program has helped put in place in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama.

However, even in many countries that prohibit finning, the sale of shark fins is legal. As such, responsible consumer habits are also critical, even if this means curbing the appetites that are driving species towards extinction. Obviously this is a culturally sensitive issue, as serving sharkfin soup at important events is a tradition in China. But as the trade in elephant ivory, mountain gorilla hand ashtrays and rhinoceros horns all have shown, both suppliers and markets need to exercise responsibility and discipline when extinctions are imminent.

After all, once a species disappears, not only will the tradition be lost, but so will the ecological role the species provides for the benefit of everyone.

Scott Henderson manages CI’s Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape program, which is based in the Galápagos Islands. To learn more about the plight of the world’s shark species, check out this recent CNN article.

Comments

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  2. John Taylor says

    The basic problem is human overpopulation and poverty. People will not stop cutting off shark fins because they will do anything to make money to survive. As the supply of shark fins goes down, the price will go up and become even more lucrative, thereby insuring the extinction of the species. Unless there is an outright ban on sharkfins and aggressive policing, there will be no more sharks. No more sharks, then the lower predators will increase in numbers and wipe out what they feed on, leading to a disaster. Unfortunately, unchecked human population growth (the super predator)will ultimately lead to the destruction of all advanced life forms and throw our existence into peril.

  3. Pingback: New Book Reveals the Hidden World of Sharks | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

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