Shark finning is the capture of sharks expressly for the removal of their fins, which are used to make shark fin soup, a popular status symbol in many Chinese communities. I could understand and accept this practice if the fins were taken from animals that were harvested sustainably and for which markets existed for the rest of the body, but that’s generally not how it works. The fins are so valuable that for many fishers it is not worth keeping the rest of the body; dead sharks weigh a lot, y’see, and each carcass takes up valuable space that could be fins. So, finning is usually a grisly and abhorrent affair wherein sharks (most any pelagic species) are captured by nets or long lines, have all their fins severed and are then thrown back, often without regard to whether they are alive or not (if they are, they certainly won’t be for long)
Thankfully, public awareness of finning is on the rise and the practice has come under intense pressure of late. Some have argued that this pressure represents a form of cultural discrimination against Chinese or Chinese Americans. For the people who feel that way, I dig deep down into my sympathy bag and come up with not. very. much. Get over yourselves. It’s not about you, it’s about the sharks. We kill hundreds of millions of them per year and their populations globally are in serious decline. Are you telling me you can’t give up a bowl of soup to save one of nature’s greatest creations? Please. You know what? If we keep finning, then one day we’ll fin the last shark and eat the last bowl of soup and then where will we be? In exactly the same position, only now we’ll know that the reason we can’t eat shark fin soup anymore is our own fault. I’d love to think that we could develop shark fisheries that are sustainable over the long term, but their biology largely precludes that; they grow too slowly and are too slow to mature, and this particular market is for such a tiny part of the animal. Face facts, one way or another, shark fin soup is doomed, it’s just a question of whether it takes all the sharks with it. I would think it the mark of an advanced society that we can choose to forgo something we personally enjoy and find culturally significant, in order to conserve a whole class of animals for all cultures, not to mention for this and future generations. Traditions are important, but cultures are also dynamic and this is one situation where we really need to make a change.
Enter Max Guinn, a 5th grade student from San Diego. Max is an enterprising young man. He co-founded a group called KidsEcoClub as “a place where kids and the environment meet” and has started a petition, addressed to President Obama no less, pleading for a legislative ban on shark finning. Now, the US already has legislation on the books that is aimed at minimising finning: the Shark Conservation Act that Pres. Obama passed in December 2010. It requires that sharks be landed with their fins on or that the weight of fins on a fishing vessel be matched by a proportional weight of shark carcases (in other words, you cant have more fins than sharks). Max wants a tougher stance, however. He’s asking to make it illegal for people to possess, sell, trade or distribute shark fins. Six states (and several other countries) have proactively enacted these kinds of bans, but Max wants it to be federal law and he needs your help to do it. Please consider signing his petition and distributing this link to others. By taking action now we can all help save shark lives, preserve a semblance of balance in the oceans and reward the activism of young people who are living up to the doctrine “be the change you want to see in the world”. Do it now, it will only take a minute.