Sharks have thrived in the world’s oceans for more than 400 million years, but a comprehensive new report released by Oceana and WildAid reveals that the world’s shark populations have been devastated by human activities. The new report, entitled “End of the Line,” shows how the global demand for shark products, and in particular shark fin soup, has prompted gruesome and wasteful fishing practices that could effectively lead to their extinction.
Long recognized as the top predators in marine ecosystems, sharks now have their own predator, humans. Shark populations are highly vulnerable to man’s fishing practices because they are generally slow-growing and long-lived, with females producing few offspring late in life. Sharks have long provided a source of protein, but now it is the rapid increase in demand for shark fin soup, unproven medicinal treatments, and cosmetics that is decimating shark populations.
“Humans are pushing shark species to extinction with devastating impacts on the ocean ecosystem,” said Elizabeth Griffin, marine wildlife scientist at Oceana. “There is just no way for these species to withstand the direct pressure of man’s voracious fishing practices.”
A primary example of the new global consumer demand for sharks can be found in shark fin soup. Once a rarely consumed delicacy in China, shark fin soup has become commonplace at important events such as weddings, birthdays and corporate functions. Sadly, this dish has fostered the cruel and wasteful practice of finning. Finning uses only 1-5 percent of the shark’s body weight as it is hauled on deck, its fins sliced off, and the shark — sometimes still alive — is thrown back into the sea to bleed to death.
“In the last few decades, not only have shark populations been decimated by unregulated industrialized fishing, but the market for shark fin has exploded from a few million wealthy people in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan to up to tens of millions in China alone,” said Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, the group that compiled the report. “This means that sharks are now targeted everywhere in the world and that they are being poached from marine reserves and the waters of other countries.”
End of the Line also identifies bycatch as a significant threat to the future of shark species. Each year, as many sharks are caught and killed as bycatch in commercial fisheries targeting other species as are killed in fisheries targeting sharks. Estimates suggest that tens of millions sharks are caught as bycatch each year and the majority of these sharks are finned, essentially creating black market fisheries for shark fins.
The report concludes that an immediate global effort is necessary to identify and implement the steps necessary to save sharks from extinction. The solution must include a combination of actions, including improvements in current shark finning laws, reduction of consumer demand, and additional research on shark species.
“After more than 400 million years, the sad reality is time is running out for sharks,” continued Griffin. “Saving sharks requires immediate and collective action, starting with leadership from the United States to improve its existing shark finning laws.”
A copy of the “End of the Line” report is available at http://www.oceana.org/sharks/shark-report.