As China’s prosperity has grown, so has their taste for supposedly luxury items – like shark fin soup. The increased demand for shark fins has resulted in a subsequent decline in shark populations around the world. The annual harvest of millions of these slow maturing fish puts tremendous strain on the population sometimes to the magnitude of an 89% decline, as has been seen with hammerheads in the western Atlantic during the last 25 years.
However, a sea change appears to underway as numerous countries, governments, organizations, and even celebrities have taken up the shark cause. The last 12 months have shown a wave of action including bans on fin sale in parts of the US and Canada, removal of fin sale from popular Chinese online retailers, and changes to the fishing regulations. The Food Network has removed all shark recipes from their website. Famous chef Gordon Ramsay has been pushing for the removal of shark fin soup in London restaurants. And the immensely popular Chinese athlete, Yao Ming, has been featured in anti-shark ads across Asia.
Regulations of shark fining has always been difficult to control, as there was limited regulation and fishermen would arrive to port with just the fins, making it difficult to determine the original species it came from. During dockside inspections a bag of fins can easily be hidden. Even in North Carolina there isn’t a required permit to fish for sharks.
While there are significant political and cultural battles ahead in shark conservation, it is important to note to the progress which has mainly come from environmental conservation groups. Sales of shark fins are down by 1/3 in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan – major Asian markets. The Bahamas and Honduras have prohibited shark fishing during the last two years, and many look to follow. Countries have established marine protected areas to limit entry and fishing pressure. All of this demonstrating what concerned citizens can do once organized.