A couple of months ago, I went to this sleepy little town in Ecuador, known all over the world for its diving opportunities. While in the small town, it became very obvious to me that there were many sharks in the small town that were being hauled dead by the local fishermen, on a daily basis. But it took me a while to notice that I never really saw any sharks when I was diving. Not a single shark did I see in all those days that I spent in that sleepy little town diving. So, I asked myself, why?
Purpose Behind Fishing for Sharks
So, some basic web researching made me see the bigger picture and now I realize (in spite of all those ads on TV) that shark decimation caused due to shark fishing is a worldwide problem. Yes, there are a handful of small organizations out there that are dedicated to coming up with various campaigns to prevent this kind of fishing. But, what I have noticed over the years is that there are very few large conservation organizations, or even the media who are talking about the sharp decline in sharks. Orangutans and panda bears are so cuddly and cute and when they call out for help, the dollars start pouring in. Sharks on the other hand are looked upon as ferocious monstrosities that patrol surrounding coastlines and surfing beaches, just waiting to eat people. The truth however, could not be farther than this.
While it would be downright stupid to suggest that sharks are cuddly creatures or that they don't ever attack innocent people, tell me when was the last time you saw a bunch of picnickers laying down a picnic hamper in a tiger's or lion's territory? Yet, we donate thousands and thousands of dollars with the effort to save these animals from becoming extinct. Why not do the same for sharks? Like tigers, sharks also invoke in us the same feelings of fear and awe. Meeting this sleek, muscle-bound and fearful killing machine face to face would be like staring death in the face. Yet you have to admire the feelings of awe and fear that they invoke in us.
Issues with Fishing for Sharks
This incidence has indeed become a very serious problem. Since nature has blessed sharks with a very low reproductive rate so that they don't overwhelm the reefs that they are meant to protect, this same low fecundity is actually what threatens them today. This low reproduction rate in sharks makes their extinction loom closer as they are unable to cope with the massive demand of the shark fin soup trade in the Far East. Owing to this, their numbers have plummeted by a shocking 98%! In the last 15 years itself. It has been estimated that nearly 100,00 tons of shark are being removed each year all over the world.
The first warning sirens of shark extinctions have only now started to be publicized, but there is still no serious media involvement or airtime given to the subject. If this situation continues for some more time, it will soon be too late. Actions needs to be taken now, and it needs to be done fast. The oceans and marine life receive less attention than their land-inhabiting counterparts perhaps because they are not easily accessible and filming the cruelty shown towards sharks and other forms of marine life is not as easy.
It is all very well, but many articles state that sharks are the top of the food chain without really explaining any further as to why they are on top and what would be the effects is they were removed from the top. It is impossible to save a particular ecosystem without saving those that lie at the top of the food chain, and similarly, it isn't possible to save those lying at the top of the food chain without saving the ecosystem.
Harm to the Ecosystem
Studies have shown that if sharks were all removed from the food chain, then the predators lying in the middle would become too predominant and the ocean reefs would become overwhelmed by these species, as a result of which the reefs would suffer greatly. And, the health of the reefs is what we need to be concerned about the most. The reefs are considered to be the lungs of the oceans, as they are the home to many different Microsystems - a home within a home. This is where most species of fish are born, and this is where they grow up unhindered by the lurking dangers of the great oceans. In damaging the reefs, we are more or less damaging our oceans. In engaging in shark fishing activities, we are directly damaging these reefs systems over which the sharks hunt.
Many organizations and protesters state that more protection is needed for our sharks. If you hear about the atrocities that they are subjected to, you'll probably never touch seafood again. Many sharks are caught, finned and then thrown back into the waters still alive, to die a slow and painful death. Banning this act won't give the sharks any respite. The fishermen will still continue to fish for sharks even if this is outlawed, all they have to do is keep the body on board and the numbers of these creature will continue to decline.
It is however, very unlikely that we will get a worldwide ban, but the least we can do is put pressure on our MP's and other political representatives to maintain sustainability of current shark stocks and to increase legislation. The least we can do is stop ourselves from ordering shark meat and shark fin soups when we go out for dinner. That is the least we can do. Shark fishing has got to stop.