Shark populations are declining. California can help by passing a shark-fin ban
The loss of a cultural tradition is regrettable, but the loss of a species is tragic and the upset of the oceans’ environmental balance could be catastrophic. That’s why a California bill banning the possession and sale of shark fins should be pulled out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee suspense file Thursday and sent to the Senate floor, where it should be passed.
Shark populations are declining, and close to a third of shark species are in danger of extinction. Contributing to this decline is the practice of shark finning, in which large-scale fishing operations cut off the valuable fins, used for the Chinese delicacy shark-fin soup, and throw the rest of the shark back into the ocean to die. At one time, the expensive soup was out of the reach of all but the wealthiest Chinese families, but the emergence of the Chinese middle class increased demand to the point where an estimated 70 million sharks are killed each year solely for their fins.
Some Chinese Americans vehemently oppose the bill, saying it would end the ages-old tradition of serving shark-fin soup at weddings. A bowl of the soup is a status symbol that costs about $100. Others wholeheartedly support the bill — one of the sponsors is Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Sunnyvale), who is of Chinese descent — pointing out that there are many ways to honor wedding guests with prestigious treats.
Humane Society International and the Jane Goodall Institute China Join to Protect Sharks
A wide range of Chinese animal welfare and conservation groups, media professionals, businesses and students joined HSI and JGI China representatives at a press conference held at the Zoo to launch the exhibit and to enlist public support for shark protection.
The exhibit, entitled “The Price Behind the Taste – Protect Sharks, Don’t Eat Shark Fins,” consists of captivating images of sharks swimming in the ocean followed by dramatic photos of fins being cut off of live sharks to make shark fin soup. The unmistakable message is that the human appetite for shark fins has devastating consequences for sharks.
“Humane Society International is pleased to partner with the Jane Goodall Institute China and its extensive grassroots network consisting of hundreds of Roots & Shoots groups across the country,” said Iris Ho, HSI’s wildlife campaigns manager. “As the world’s largest market for shark fins, China plays a crucial role in the survival of shark species at risk of extinction. Support for shark protection in China is urgently needed – and this exhibit along with our other activities with JGI-China are a first yet significant step to build that support.”
“Vital to healthy oceans, sharks are being overfished and their fins severed for trade,” added Lei Chen Wong, JGI China’s executive director. “This joint campaign will help raise crucial awareness in China about the importance of protecting sharks, and attempt to promote changes in attitude and behavior about the commercial trade and widespread consumption of shark fins. We hope to inform and empower the Chinese public to be an active participant in the global campaign to protect sharks.”
The exhibit is part of “No Shark Fin,” a year-long joint educational campaign by HSI and the JGI China to raise awareness of and support for sharks in the world’s most populous country. The campaign targets Chinese youth, particularly university students, to expand their knowledge of marine biodiversity and the need for shark conservation, and to discourage shark fin consumption. The exhibit runs through September 19.
- The fins from as many as 73 million sharks are used to feed the demand for shark fin soup each year. China is the largest market for shark fins, a key ingredient in shark fin soup.
- Shark fins are sometimes harvested through “shark finning.” It involves cutting off the fins of sharks then throwing the shark back into the ocean, often while still alive, only to drown, starve or die a slow death due to predation from other animals. Tens of millions of sharks die this way each year. Some species of shark are on the brink of extinction due to the cruel and exploitative shark fin industry.
- Sharks are apex predators whose survival affects all other marine species and entire ocean ecosystems. The practice of shark finning is global and has led to a severe decline in shark populations.
- Unlike other fish species, sharks produce very few young and mature slowly and consequently, overexploited populations can take years or even decades to recover.
- Several workshops on the plight of these apex predators and the importance of saving them were held for Roots & Shoots student groups earlier this year. Participating student groups will create projects to recruit people to take pledges to avoid shark fin products and spread consumer awareness among their peers and in their communities. Roots & Shoots also takes this shark protection message online, utilizing their website and social media networks to garner support for the No Shark Fin pledge.
Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians Confront Shark Exploitation
Groups seek protection for scalloped hammerheads threatened by fish commerce and “finning”
In the wake of “Shark Week,” and following their action taken last week to protect porbeagle sharks, WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals are seeking protection for another “wolf of the sea”— scalloped hammerhead sharks. The groups today submitted a petition to the National Marine and Fisheries Service seeking to list these imperiled predators as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The hammerhead’s name describes a characteristic elongated, flattened head, which on the scalloped hammerhead has distinctive, curved indentations along the front edge. Scalloped hammerhead sharks can live to age 30. Adults usually travel alone or in pairs, but juveniles gather in large schools. Most sharks, including scalloped hammerheads, play an important role as apex predators in maintaining ocean bio-communities. Ecosystem stability and biodiversity, congressional priorities for the ESA, could seriously suffer from the loss of these top predators.
“To paraphrase Jaws, scalloped hammerheads are going to need a bigger boat to survive,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians.
This Summer of the Shark, It’s All About Saving Them
Ten years ago, it seemed as if the nation was living a real-life version of “Jaws,” in which every beach harbored a potential threat. It started on July 6, when 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast had his arm bitten off by a bull shark off Pensacola, Fla. The incident was both horrifying and dramatic: Arbogast’s uncle pulled the shark to shore, allowing emergency medical personnel to get the boy’s arm out of the animal’s throat so it could later be reattached. Less than a month later, 36-year-old Krishna Thompson, a New Yorker, lost a leg in the Bahamas to a shark.
Labor Day weekend was particularly lethal. Ten-year-old David Peltier died on Sept. 2 when a shark claimed him off Virginia Beach. The next day, 28-year-old Sergei Zaloukaev was killed by a shark while swimming off Cape Hatteras, N.C.; his 23-year-old girlfriend, Natalia Slobodskaya, lost a foot in the same incident. As the human toll rose, the news media quickly dubbed 2001 the “Summer of the Shark.”
Television correspondents rushed to the scenes of the attacks, where they chronicled the most minute developments, announcing even the non-news that emergency responders doing routine sweeps of the ocean had failed to find any signs of sharks.
President Chinchilla Assigns Shark Fin Imports Issue to Minister Antillón
This past July 14th PRETOMA received word from the President’s Office that the organization’s formal request to ban shark fin imports to Costa Rica, was assigned to the Minister of Economy, Industry, and Commerce, Ms. Mayi Antillón, for her consideration (click to read letter).
“We have an appointment with Ms. Antillón on August 11th”, said Randall Arauz, PRETOMA’s President. “This government has undertaken important actions for marine conservation, and we’re confident that it will soon ban shark fin imports, the latest trick devised by the Puntarenas based foreign fishing fleet in order to continue with the extinction of these important marine species”, assured Arauz.
Oregon Joins Fight Against Shark Finning
Oregon is joining a national effort to end the shark fin trade.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed bill HB 2838 Thursday, banning the sale, trade and possession of shark fins. The fins are often cut from a live shark, which is then tossed back in the ocean to bleed to death, drown or be attacked by other predators.
Oregon’s bill joins similar legislation in Hawaii and Washington. A California measure passed the Assembly in June, but has yet to clear the Senate. President Obama signed federal legislation tightening a ban on shark finning in U.S. waters earlier this year.
“With the global trade in shark fins pushing sharks toward extinction, it will take strong actions such as this to prevent us from making irreversible changes to our ocean ecosystems,” said Whit Sheard, senior advisor for Oceana, a maritime conservation organization. “The bipartisan support for this bill once again demonstrates that support for healthy oceans is a non-partisan issue.”
During “Shark Week,” The Humane Society of the United States Files Lawsuits to Protect Imperiled Porbeagle Sharks
The porbeagle shark is among the most vulnerable shark species in the world, and the Northwest Atlantic population, which lives off the east coast of the United States and Canada, has suffered a fishing-related decline of 90 percent in the past 50 years. Current federal fisheries management measures are inadequate to prevent continued depletion of porbeagle sharks – NMFS does not even track all porbeagle mortalities.
“Porbeagles are not only caught by commercial fisheries, but they are the targets of shark tournaments, where participants are encouraged to catch them and are awarded prizes for killing the biggest sharks,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for HSUS. “Sharks are some of the most ancient and amazing of ocean creatures. When so many Americans are celebrating sharks and learning about the need to conserve them, it is shameful that the federal government is playing roulette with their survival.”
Examining Scientific Integrity In the Global Shark Fin Trade
Where do you go to get your science? This might sound like a strange question for those who are used to thinking of science as facts, immutable and uncontestable. But I argue that just as we have all learned over the past decade that there is much to be aware of when making seafood choices, we also need to learn to be good consumers when it comes to our science intake as well.
Let’s take the shark fin trade as an example. When I began my PhD research on this topic in 2000, there was little scientific information about the trade and a low level of awareness among the general public. While some shark fin traders were hostile, others did cautiously consent to provide me with samples and information. I used this field data from the auction houses of Hong Kong and the shark ports of Taiwan to estimate, step-by-step, how many sharks of what species and sizes were passing through the world’s biggest market in Hong Kong each year. I then extrapolated this to the global market and made a comparison to sustainable levels of fishing. There were inevitably many unknowns in the formula, and being a scientist, I did my best to bracket these with high and low estimates and to carry through these unknowns as a range. My conclusion was that as of 2000, the fins of 38 million sharks per year were being traded through the fin markets, but that the number could range as low as 26 million or as high as 73 million.
Oceana Calls on U.S. Government to Ban Import of Shark Products from Countries with Insufficient Shark Protections
Shark Conservation Act allows U.S. to take action against countries with weaker shark conservation regulations, including China, Japan and Indonesia
Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, called on the United States government today to ban the import of shark products, including fins, cartilage and meat, from countries with insufficient shark protections. Specifically, the group is urging the U.S. to use its power under the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 to take action against countries with weaker shark conservation measures, including China, Japan and Indonesia.
In a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Oceana identified 15 countries that; 1) catch sharks in international waters; 2) exported shark products to the U.S. in 2011; and 3) have weaker shark protection measures than the U.S. The list includes: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Costa Rica, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, Peru and Spain.
“Although shark finning is banned in the U.S., we import fins from countries with little or no protection for sharks,” said Rebecca Greenberg, marine scientist at Oceana. “By taking action against countries like these, the U.S. can help reduce the demand that leads to shark finning – encouraging improved shark conservation worldwide.”
Pew Applauds Pacific Island Leaders’ Call for Regioral Shark Sanctuary
An area covering over two million square miles of the western Pacific Ocean, two-thirds of the land area of the United States, is slated to become the world’s largest shark sanctuary and the first one ever created through a regional agreement among governments.
Leaders at last week’s 15th Micronesian Chief Executive Summit passed a resolution to begin the process of creating a regional sanctuary where shark fishing would be prohibited. The agreement, which also authorizes the development of a regional ban on the possession, sale and trade of shark fins, covers the waters of the Federated States of Micronesia and its four member States, The Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.
“We applaud and support the chief executives for protecting the sharks of Micronesia,” said Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group, who has worked with Micronesian leaders this year to develop the resolution and presented at the summit to push for its passage. “Their leadership should serve as a model for other coastal nations to safeguard these important keystone species which are rapidly disappearing from the world’s oceans, primarily as a result of the escalating demand for shark fins in China and other Asian countries.”