Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
11 July 1999 Issue

The Waste of Shark Finning
By [email protected], ARO staff member

It is often hard to gather support to help an animal like the shark, which fails to project a warm and cuddly image. The series of Jaws films sure cut down on my swimming habits. But the fact is that more people die each year choking on hot dogs than die being the chunk choking a shark. So when humane arguments fail, animal protection groups often use environmental arguments.

Sharks are important ocean predators. Without them our oceans would be thrown out of balance and food chains disrupted. Some scientists have just started to become concerned about the over-fishing of sharks, because we are only beginning to understand them. We are still very much in the dark about which species are threatened or endangered.

In 1998 over 50,000 blue sharks were killed just for their fins. Sharks are often the by-catch of commercial fishermen seeking tuna and other fish. The crews cut the fins from the sharks and throw the bodies, often alive, back into the sea where they bleed to death or are eaten by other sharks. The market for shark meat and cartilage is small and not worth the trouble to these oceanic strip miners, but shark fins bring in from $30 a pound to over $200 a pound in Asia where shark fin soup is a delicacy.

From 1991 to 1996, as the price of fins doubled, the shark fin trade at Hawaii's docks jumped 22-fold according to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. Pacific fishermen based in Hawaii have moved from seeing sharks as a by-catch to going out specifically to catch sharks, bringing in the fins and leaving the bodies behind.

Finning is inhumane, wasteful and contradictory to American fisheries policy. Shark finning is banned in federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean and is opposed by U.S. representatives to international fisheries organizations. Yet it's still allowed in the Pacific.

The Environmental Defense Fund, a national, NY-based nonprofit organization, has criticized the failure of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to control shark fin amputations in the Pacific. "NMFS does not allow finning in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean. In addition, the United Nations recently adopted an international plan of action to protect sharks which emphasizes caution until scientists better understand shark ecology," said Dr. Stephanie Fried, an EDF policy analyst.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council realize they have an image problem over this issue and their response has been to seek alternative markets for shark products to decrease the perception of waste. They are trying to develop markets for shark products, such as using the skin for leather goods and promoting the use of cartilage and the liver for alternative remedies. The problem with this approach is that it continues to see only the economic benefits of the exploitation of sharks and fails to consider conservation and ecological concerns.

In April of this year, the Hawaii State House of Representatives considered Hawaii House Bill #1706, introduced by Representative Takumi Schatz, which would have strictly limited the possession, purchase, sale, or trade of shark fins. The bill failed.

For more information on finning please visit

EDF -- Environmental Defense Fund WorldWide

55,000 Blue Sharks Killed In 1998 For Wasteful Fin Trade

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