Shark finning is the most egregious example I know of the way in which human cultural preferences and profit-seeking can devastate the natural world. Some 73 million sharks a year are killed by fishermen who are after fins to put into…soup bowls. It is the modern equivalent of the way in which the North American buffalo was slaughtered to the edge of extinction in the 19th century.
The Pew Environment Group, which has been fighting shark finning with determination and energy, just published a series of photos, featuring Taiwan, to throw some light on the brutality and scale of the practice.
Ten months after releasing a landmark report revealing the planet’s top 20 shark-fishing catchers, the Pew Environment Group is expressing concern about new images and video taken in Taiwan that detail the expansive and unregulated nature of shark fishing globally. The depictions show fins and body parts of biologically vulnerable shark species, such as scalloped hammerhead and oceanic whitetip, being readied for market.
“These images present a snapshot of the immense scale of shark-fishing operations and show the devastation resulting from the lack of science-based management of sharks, “said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group. “Unfortunately, since there are no limits on the number of these animals that can be killed in the open ocean, this activity can continue unabated.”
The report by Pew and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, listed Taiwan as having the fourth-largest number of reported shark catches in the world after Indonesia, India, and Spain. Those four account for more than 35 percent of total global landings.
Here are a few of the photos (full slideshow can be found here):
And here is a video Pew produced:
Yes, it’s shocking and it would be nice if that would somehow translate into a global aversion to slicing up sharks for shark fin soup. Yes, there has been slow progress toward banning shark fin soup outside Asia. Yes, in response to these pictures Taiwan has announced it will ban the practice of shark finning next year (though it will allow shark fishermen to land sharks with fins, and slice ’em off ashore). Yes, Pew is calling for more action, all of which makes sense:
To address the overfishing of sharks, governments should immediately:
- Establish shark sanctuaries, just as the Marshall Islands, Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas and Tokelau have done, where the animals are fully protected from exploitation.
- End fishing of sharks for which science-based management plans are not in place or for those that are threatened or near threatened with extinction.
- Devise and implement an effective national plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks.
- Eliminate shark bycatch, the accidental catch of a species during targeted fishing for other species.
But the reality is that, as long as we subscribe to economic theories and a capitalist approach that prices goods according to the cost of production, but excludes external costs like the impact on the environment, most of human commerce will continue to trash the planet and its species. So rally for the sharks, but, more important, rally for the idea of pricing goods in way that includes the environmental costs, and raises prices to reduce demand to sustainable levels.
That is the revolution that would change everything.