Everything You Need to Know About Shark Finning
Updated: Jul 21
An often unspoken topic, the shark finning trade requires our attention.
In recent years, the issue has received increased publicity but it is still largely misunderstood. In this article, we will take a look at the reason for the demand for shark fins, the ethical and environmental impact, and discuss what we as ocean advocates can do about it.
Shark fins are used predominantly for one reason, as the key ingredient in shark fin soup. The soup requires the cartilage of only the shark fins. This inhumane and sustainable practice is the leading cause for the decline of most large shark species.
Considered a delicacy by some, the soup has a long tradition in Chinese Medicine across East Asian destinations. By far the main consumer countries are mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan, however, shark fins are also imported to other regions in order to supply the local markets Asian communities. Whilst the demand for shark fin soup has declined in China, its popularity has spread and the demand for shark fin is still unsustainable.
Shark finning is big money; 800,000 metric tons are required each year to meet demand. The industry is estimated to be worth $500 million annually.
According to WildAid, “Fins from up to 73 million sharks are used in shark fin soup each year. Consumption of this luxury dish has led to overfishing of many vulnerable shark species, as well as to the inhumane practice of finning.”
What is Shark Fin Soup?
Shark fin soup is a dish that consists of shark fin and is served in a broth. The fins have almost no flavour so fish or chicken stock, onion, mushroom, oyster sauce, soy sauce, ginger or rice wine are commonly added. The recipe changes depending on the cook, the ceremony and the availability of local ingredients.
The controversial shark fin soup dates back more than 1000 years during the Song Dynasty when it was consumed as a delicacy by the Chinese aristocracy.
Melissa Cristina Marquez, a marine biologist, explains ‘some people believe that they will absorb the “powers” of these long-living creatures by eating their fins’. This is largely due to the misunderstanding that sharks can not get cancer and that the cartilage of the shark fin is a cure for a range of illness and disease in the body.
Research has demonstrated that shark fin cartilage has little to no nutritional value and that sharks can in fact get cancer. Still, the dish continues to be a status symbol served not only at important ceremonies and events but in local restaurants around the world.
The practice of shark finning is cruel, often the fins are removed whilst the shark is still alive, then thrown back off the boat out at sea.
Shark finning is a highly wasteful process where less than 10% of the shark is used (the fins) as shark meat is of low commercial value.
The practice is difficult to regulate, shark fins of endangered species can be mixed to avoid detection.
Shark finning plays a large role in the illegal and unregulated fishing industry.
Many shark species are now under threat including Scalloped Hammerheads, Blacktip Sharks, Oceanic Whitetips, Silky Sharks, and Whale Sharks.
Health experts have highlighted their concern for the risks associated with human consumption of shark fin soup.
Shark fin and shark meat contains a high level of mercury and has been linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease according to recent studies.
One study suggests that shark fin consumption is linked to degenerative brain disease, Lou Gehrig Disease (ALS), and the shark fin supplements also pose a significant health risk.
Over 75% of oceanic sharks are threatened with extinction.
Sharks play a vital role in the marine ecosystem as one of the ocean’s top predators and are responsible for hunting weaker schools of fish such as fish that are sick and pose a threat to other species.
Shark populations have declined almost 70% in some areas.
There are a number of countries that now have a full or partial ban on both shark finning and live shark fin removal at sea. However, the restrictions and permission are complicated, to say the least.
In some cases, shark fins must be attached to the shark when it arrives on land, shark fins can not be detached from the shark at sea but can be removed so long as the carcass is not discarded/wasted. The ban of the removal of shark fins on a shipping vessel is a step forward for the ethical concerns of live shark finning, but it permits the continued fishing of shark species and the ability to export fins for human consumption. With continued exemptions in the law and the prevalence of illegal trade; it is an immense challenge to protect the sharks.
A total shark fishing ban is in place in The Republic of the Maldives, Egypt, Honduras, The Cook Islands, Israel, Congo-Brazzaville, Palau, The Marshall Islands, Fiji and other destinations have imposed a ban on shark fishing during certain months of each year or in protected waters.
Due to public awareness from a range of campaigns aiming to stop shark finning and ban the import of shark products, a number of global companies have stopped serving shark fin soup. The list includes hotel chains, restaurants, airlines, shipping companies and is supported by brands such as Hong Kong Disney, Amazon, Marriott Hotels, Hilton Hotels and many more. For a full list of companies including hotels and airlines, you can view this comprehensive list here.
What You Can Do
Sign petitions and spread awareness on social media
Support local businesses who are advocating against shark finning
Refuse to purchase products containing shark meat
Don’t eat shark fin soup or buy from restaurants that continue to serve shark
Avoid products (sunscreen or other cosmetics) that contain squalene - squalene comes from shark liver oil
Remove or reduce seafood from your diet (there are many species at risk due to overfishing)
Sign the stop shark finning petitions
European Citizens Initiative
Rob Stewart's film Sharkwater: The truth will surface
Take the pledge and join team Sharkwater
Shark finning is a cruel and unnecessary trade, though rich in history with an emphasis on social status, it is not sustainable. As consumers, we do have the power to enact real change. Just take the recent news regarding the import and exports of shark fins in the UK. A campaign led by Shark Guardian which started in May 2020 petitioned the UK government to ban the import and export of shark fins. The petition was signed over 100,000 times and as a result, a new law was announced by the UK Environment Secretary as part of a new action plan for Animal Welfare.
So, what do you think?
How do you feel about shark finning?
Share your thoughts in the comments below and share this article on social media with your family and friends. As advocates for ocean conservation, we can make a difference and bring about positive change.
Written by Cherie Julie
Please backlink to my blog post related to this topic here
Cherie Julie | Travel For Change
Cherie founded a responsible tourism blog, Travel For Change, in 2016 with the desire to encourage other travellers to wander with purpose. Today the blog has transformed into a copywriting business for mindful brands where Cherie writes on various topics such as the environment, human rights, animal welfare and sustainable travel.
Human Society International