A team of divers studying sharks near an island off the coast of Colombia recently discovered that up to 2,000 hammerhead sharks had been killed for their fins and left to die on the sea floor. The killings took place in a wildlife sanctuary.
It would be easy for me to get on my soapbox and rage at this senseless massacre. But perhaps it would be better to approach this issue from an economic standpoint. While I don’t agree with killing sharks for their fins, if you are going to do that why don’t you use the whole shark? Why waste it? I’m aware of the value that some cultures place on fins, but surely you can eat the rest of the shark without inhumanely finning it and throwing it overboard. It is a senseless and wasteful act.
CNN had this to say about shark fins:
Shark fin soup can be expensive. A bowl of imperial shark fin soup can cost upwards of $100. These days, shark fin soup is so fashionable that it’s becoming commonplace. Buffets serve versions of it for as low as $10 a bowl. The irony is that shark fin is flavorless — its cartilage has a chewy consistency. Tens of thousands of sharks are being killed for a gelatinous thing in a soup.
Now that I think about it I supposedly had shark tacos once in Mexico (though I don’t really believe it was shark I was eating but some type of white fish). How many people could 2,000 sharks feed? Certainly there is a value to sharks beyond their coveted fins.
When I was in Bolivia I lived with a family that seemed to me ate almost the entire cow. Bolivia is a poor country and you don’t waste much of anything, much to my American disgust at being served fried fat. Still, it does underscore the point of “waste not, want not.” The world is getting to a point where we shouldn’t be wasting things.
An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year. India is number two on the list of the top countries for catching sharks and is yet to pass any legislation protecting sharks. According to the wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC, India accounts for 9% of the global shark catch, with an annual average yield of over 74,000 tons. It is also suspected that fins are being exported illegally.
Sharks are a vital part of the ecosystem. By decimating the population of the ocean’s top predator, an essential link in the food chain, humans are altering the equillibrium and web of life in ways we don’t yet understand.
While I wonder at the waste of killing a shark solely for its fin, this “tradition” convinces me of the need to pursue a global rights of nature declaration if we are to have a chance at maintaining healthy communities and environment. This doesn’t mean that sharks or anything else in the ecosystem are put before humans. It does mean that we should respect the species with whom we share this planet. People can still fish, just do it in a sustainable, humane and non-wasteful manner. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.