Shark finning is the practice of chopping off the sharks' fin and releasing them back into the sea. But obviously, the sharks cannot swim without their fins, as a result of which the gills cannot derive oxygen for respiration. Ultimately, they either drown or starve to death. As these sharks are less active, they often fall prey to other predators in the sea. As for the chopped fins, they are used in various cuisines and traditional medicines. In fact, shark fin soup is a key component of various Asian cuisines.
Facts about Shark Finning
Millions of sharks, irrespective of their age and size, are exploited for their fins. Shark finning takes place on the ship in the middle of the oceans; the fishermen cut the pectoral and dorsal fins, and throw the heavy and less valuable body of sharks back into the sea. Shark fins account for less than 5 percent of their total body weight. Once transported to the land, the raw fins are processed, wherein their skin is removed, and eventually, frozen or dried. While drying, the processed fins are usually treated with hydrogen peroxide to retain their color.
In the last few decades, the demand for shark fins has increased to a large extent. It is a multi-billion industry, in which one lb of dried shark fins fetch as much as US$300 and a bowl of shark fin soup costs anywhere about US$350. Fins obtained from hammerhead sharks are costlier than that of other species. Shark fins contain significant amount of mercury that may cause various health problems. It is revealed that frequent consumption of shark fin soup can lead to sterility disorder in men.
Other than Europe, shark finning is rampant in Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, and other Asian countries. According to a survey, it was found that the demand for them had dropped in Hong Kong and increased in mainland China. In the Chinese culture, shark fin soup represents wealth and prestige―since the times of Ming dynasty―and thus, is served during weddings and other special occasions.
Though the exact data on shark population is not available, it is estimated that the population of several species has reduced by about 90 percent since 1970s. According to the environmentalists, about 100 - 150 million sharks are killed annually by finning. As of now, there is no international monitoring and/or regulation on shark finning and thus, the practice continues unabated.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has suggested that imposing a law to bring back shark carcasses, can help in banning this practice. In other words, the whole shark, without removing the fins, should be brought to the land. However, the regulation of shark finning laws is in accordance to the respective jurisdiction. Despite the fact that the practice is rampant in Europe, the EU legislation on finning is least regulated.
If this practice continues, then most of the shark species will become extinct within the next few decades. Since sharks are the top predators in seas and oceans, a decline in their population disturbs the natural stability of the marine ecosystem. In order to ban finning, public awareness programs on shark extinction rate, conservation status, and its role on ecosystem have to be initiated at the global level.