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Kirsten Gotting

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Should shark fishing be banned?

Exploitation has led to the threat of extinction for many shark species. In Chinese culture shark fins are used in the popular shark fin soup, as well as in traditional medicinal remedies, both of which are centuries old and hold significant cultural importance. Demand for shark fins kills 73 million sharks each year. One third of the shark species that swim in the open ocean have been classified as threatened, with some populations being reduced to 10% of their former size.

The European Union (EU) has been responsible for supplying 14% of the shark fins to the global market. In 2003, the EU placed a ban on shark finning, which is the practice of cutting off shark fins at sea and discarding the potentially still living body to the ocean. However a loop hole currently exists that allows fins to comprise a considerable part of any given catch. This year a new ban has been proposed to the European Parliament to remove this loophole and make it illegal to shore shark fins without the bodies. Will placing a new ban on shark finning be enough to prevent sharks from going extinct? Or, should the proposed ban on shark finning be extended to ban fishing sharks in general?

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Closing Statement from Kirsten Gotting

Hello Contributors!

I have to say that every comment held great insight into this topic. Everyone helped open my mind to many of the possible avenues that this question could take. At this point in time I think that the most realistic way to help reestablish shark populations would be to enforce quotas and regulations regarding how many full sharks, fins still attached each fishing vessel would be able to bring in. This could change the availability of shark fins, but they would still be available for cultural traditions. I think that education will come with time, especially considering the example Jayant gave about young couples choosing not to serve the delicacy at their weddings for the sake of biodiversity. I'm not convinced that shark fisheries could be accomplished because of the tons of fish that would be required to feed the sharks. Additionally, farmed shark meat probably wouldn't taste the same as wild shark, kind of like how grass fed cow meat tastes different than grain.

Thank you everyone for your comments! I really enjoyed reading them and I hope everyone keeps sharks on their mind in the future! Lets preserve this ancient and majestic predator of the ocean, as they have helped preserve the biodiversity of the oceans that so many of us enjoy.

Sincerely,

Kirsten Gotting

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    May 30 2012: Culture is a bit of a touchy subject for me my view on it generally proves less than popular, but here I go.

    While I think culture is important and should certainly be considered in situations like this, I think people are too quick to consider culture as an "unassailable" topic, and try to find ways around it instead of confronting it. I think this is large parts due to two reasons.

    1. Culture, in recent years, has come to be considered something set in stone, something that was set in the past and must either stay the same or die. This is akin to people complaining about slang words ruining a language as if languages just pop up out of the ground with an established acceptable vocabulary. These things are malleable, they can adapt. Look at Native Americans. Most of the things they hold sacred were wrecked by settlers but they still have a very strong culture and hold on to many of their beliefs. Obviously it would be better if that wasn’t necessary at all, but it shows that a culture can still persevere in the face of adversity. People treat culture like a vase that will shatter if you touch it, which just isn't true.

    2. People like to say we shouldn't mess with other people’s culture because we can't possibly understand. I think this is ridiculous. Yes, the exact significance of a piece of culture is hard for an outsider to understand, but the idea of giving up something you hold dear for an important or necessary cause is universal. Why people think culture would be exempt from this is beyond me. I've also noticed that a lot of people, even ones from cultures with very strong beliefs, are often willing to give up things for a sufficient reason, but automatically assume that people from other cultures wouldn't be. It's possible that they do in fact hold to their beliefs more tightly than you, but you shouldn't just assume that they do.

    Basically what I'm saying is; culture should be considered a factor in situations like this, not a roadblock.
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      May 30 2012: Also just because you stop doing something doesn't mean it is no longer part of your culture. Australia started as a penal colony, now we have moved on, but it is still part of our culture.
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        May 30 2012: That too! That's part of what I was trying to get at with the Native American example, but I did a terrible job of articulating it.
  • May 25 2012: Whether it's rhino, whale, shark or gorilla, saving an endangered species is more important than preserving culinary traditions.

    Perhaps Anna Ling Kaye will find the message more acceptable when it comes from Shark Truth, an organization founded by members of the Vancouver Chinese community.
    http://www.sharktruth.com/

    Couples who pledge not to serve shark-fin soup at their wedding are entered into a contest for a free honeymoon trip. The latest winner writes:

    "...when I first told my parents that we weren’t going to serve shark fin at our wedding banquet, they objected … then they hesitated … then we finally were able to convince them that this is the right thing to do for the planet. After we won the contest, my dad was bragging to all his friends about how proud he was of us for standing up for something we believe in. A few weeks later after our banquet in Vancouver, we held a banquet for 880 guests at Jason’s homecountry Malaysia and to our surprise, his parents were so motivated by what we did in Vancouver, they decided to deck out the entire banquet hall with shark conservation messages!"
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      May 27 2012: Jayant introduced a great view I have never considered. I have studied a great deal about American entitlement (we are entitled to biodiversity regardless of who's culture/way of life it affects etc) and have previously considered it selfish of the US to use their political weight to ban certain types of animal capture. The idea that cultures, and specifically the younger generations of a particular culture, want to change their lifestyle or not continue traditions for the sake of biodiversity should not be overlook and should be taken into consideration when attempting to make legal alterations to hunting/fishing practices. This can be a useful tool in slowing the degradation of different species.
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    May 29 2012: Regarding shark farming, the model used would have to be more like beef farming than other fish. You would maintain some adult breeding stock and use artificial insemination or in vitro fertilisation you may even be able to incubate embryos externally. A four year old reef shark would produce maybe 40kg of meat and 1kg of fin. You could feed them the waste from other types of fishing, (frames and heads or by-catch that is normally discarded). Choosing the right species could make the difference. Large fins would help! As would fast growth. I chose reef sharks in my example as they mature in about 4-5 years and produce around 20 offspring in the following 5 years or so. You would eat the males as one male can artificially inseminate many females, just like cattle.
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      May 30 2012: I think that shark farming in this manner seems feasible and good. This would be instead of catching a shark and releasing it without fins so that it dies. If you use the whole shark and set up farming like this that uses scraps from other fishing industries as long as its not harmful to the shark. If it doesn't matter what species of shark it is that they use I think using the Reef shark as discussed above could be a good species for use here.
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      May 30 2012: I think shark farming would be a great compromise to keep many shark species from becoming extinct while allowing a culture to use shark fins as their parents and grandparents had before them. I feel shark farming COULD discourage many negative practices currently associated with shark finning such a cruel treatment towards the animal and unnecessarily wasting the remains of sharks after de-finning. As with so many other goods once taken off the black market and managed through regulation, shark farming practices could stifle some of the illegal harvesting of fins and bring much needed awareness to the public of the these important nearly extinct animals.
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    May 29 2012: I think that banning would not be the solution since this is something that can be done illegally.However, there needs to be more restrictions and enforcement. Some sort of quota system during specific fishing seasons which is based on the shark population status, its life history, reproduction period, etc. would allow for the needs of the two interest parties to meet (the people who have culturally used shark fin and conservationists). Also like many have suggested, it would be good to make use of the whole shark and not just part of it. If not banned, then those that are making money of shark fishing can be licensed and follow a series of guidelines of how to humanly fish for sharks coupled with high surveillance. Of course first, its important to get the shark population up before any of this could come into play, but I think its important to address the needs and cultural beliefs of the people.
    • May 29 2012: Stephanie,

      I completely agree with you. It is very important to carefully consider the cultural beliefs of people. It is very easy for people to disregard a cultural belief that they cannot identify with, such as eating something rather exotic like shark fin soup. This serves as one of those reminders that we need to be able to look at the issue from another perspective. If this was a debate about an American tradition I think many in this circle might feel differently. That being said, along with taking into consideration the cultural beliefs of the Chinese, obviously the ecological well being of shark populations needs to be prioritized. Be this via the use of permits or just overall more strict and rigorous regulations with increased education, shark populations need to be protected. As many people have mentioned, sharks are keystone predators meaning that their presence greatly influences the function of marine ecosystems. We do not want to risk having to see what their loss would mean for our marine ecosystems. After all, if there are no more sharks there is no more shark fin soup and everyone loses.
      • May 29 2012: This is possibly where fisheries might fit in as a viable solution in order to allow for a balance of tradition and shark protection. However, the use of fisheries may also go against the traditional means of producing the soup. Although it has been said, I am curious as to whether highly regulated laws would dramatically decrease illegal exploitation of sharks in the water. I say this because, fisheries (for some reason) do not resonate well with me even though they make sense logically.
      • May 30 2012: Anna,
        I think both you and Stephanie make a really excellent point. I think your final point is especially important. The people whose customs include the consumption of shark fins aren't going to want to give this custom up completely, but that is exactly what they will be facing if the shark population continues to decline. I wonder if presenting the idea of shark conservation to the Chinese people from this perspective, rather than from our own perspectives, would encourage them to take a greater part in conservation efforts? We don't have to share their cultural beliefs or support their reasons for decreasing exploitation, but we can respect them. With enough respect and the right kind of education system, maybe we can actually get something done.
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    May 29 2012: A couple people have mentioned creating shark fisheries in order to avoid the exploitation of wild shark populations. Would creating shark fisheries be feasible?

    I have to question how easily this could be accomplished given that sharks develop very slowly, have small litters (K-selected), and fertilize internally.
    • May 29 2012: Although fisheries have some negative connotations, this may be one of the few logical solutions to decreasing the on going and increasing extinction rate currently cutting shark populations. Clearly, people will kill sharks for their fins regardless of the regulations. In addition, if law change to encourage individuals to take the entire shark over just the fin, populations will (in my opinion) continue to decline.

      Back to the question, I do not think the fisheries will be the best solution considering- as you said- that the turnover rate is very slow due to slow development and litter size. Also, with fisheries come the usual consequences to "mono-cropping" like disease and unhealthy hormone pumping, etc.

      I suppose the conclusion I am drawing is that there is no perfect solution, but the goal is to slow the extinction rate, shark fisheries would be a good solution because the wild populations would not be harmed as much.
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      May 29 2012: Shark fisheries would be a good idea, but I agree that the logistics would be a problem. Then again, different sharks have different needs as far as living area requirements and amount of food, etc. Does anyone know the types of sharks the Chinese use to make this soup?
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      May 30 2012: I would totally support shark fisheries as I feel a big issue will be ethics. I think besides the demise of different shark species, the biggest problem is just cultural differences; similar to how we raise cattle for the sole purpose of consuming their flesh in the US whereas others in certain religious groups would be against the methods of the United States. The application of shark fisheries would not only allow for the Chinese to make their soup, but also save the local sharks from predation.
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      May 30 2012: I am skeptical that shark fisheries could be a solution. Many farmed carnivorous fish, such as salmon and freshwater eel, create a lot of waste, disease, and require substantial amounts of other fish as food (very unproductive in our current fishing crisis). The negative environmental impacts greatly outweigh their benefit as a food source. Even if shark fisheries were set up as a closed, inland system, there is till the issue of feeding them pounds and pounds of other fish.
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        May 30 2012: This is a very good point. The amount of energy efficiency lost in the process of going from plants to a top predator is huge. Attempting to "mass produce" something like sharks would require much more biomass than raising herbivores like cows and some people already complain that the energy lost going from grass to cow is a waste. Therefore farming of sharks would be difficult to justify both from a financial standpoint and from and a conservational standpoint (because you'd have to expend tons of biomass to keep the sharks fed).
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      May 30 2012: That's a whole lot of work just for one part of the shark. Where would you install these fisheries for sharks? How nutritious is the shark fin soup?
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        May 30 2012: I don't know how nutritious the soup is, however I do know that most of the flavor and taste comes from other ingredients within the soup itself. According to the wiki page, the fin is for the texture, which in Chinese culture is almost (if not just) as important as the flavor.
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    May 29 2012: Banning shark finning, and omitting loopholes would not cease the overexploitation of sharks. Compliance is so incredibly low in terms of regulation on the extraction of oceanic species. This ban may have some compliance, but at this point not likely the amount needed to regenerate shark species at a point where they can reproduce without the effects of low population and low gene pools causing serious damage to the evolution of the species and the ability of the species to sustain themselves.
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      May 29 2012: Is it better to trow our hands up and say forget about it because some people will not follow the rules? People will always break rules, so then how do we deal with that? Granted, the problem with ocean regulation is enormous given the size of the ocean and the fact that it crosses international boarders, but that does not mean we should do nothing. Additionally, I believe it is premature to say that regeneration of shark populations is unlikely, there are so many unexplored regions of the ocean, I think there are more sharks and other organisms around than we can see, but certainly the sooner over-exploitation can be stopped, the better it will be for the populations. I think if we give up or say there is no point because no one will adhere to regulation, then we doom ourselves and the planet, sharks included.
      • May 29 2012: I agree with you, Beatrix, in that there has to be a way to have some impact on this problem, and if we do nothing, there will certainly be no impact. However, although I think that at this point, shark populations could probably come back if given a chance, it may be that soon they won't be able to. Eventually, there will be simply too few sharks in the ocean to allow for population growth; with the loss of so many sharks comes a corresponding loss in genetic diversity, and a population with very few founders will eventually succumb to inbreeding depression and will be unable to generate viable offspring. There is also the problem of simply finding a mate when there are so few sharks and so much ocean. I certainly hope that there are more sharks out there than we can find, but I fear that if drastic action is not taken immediately, shark populations will be beyond retrieval.
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    May 28 2012: Yes, it should be banned. While shark fin soup may have important cultural significance, that does not justify mass slaughter of sharks. In addition, there is no scientific evidence that shark fins have any medicinal value. This is a case of culture being used as a justification for an unsustainable and harmful practice and that needs to stop. Just because something has been practiced for hundreds of years does mean it should automatically have validity today. An extreme example is human slavery, which has a long history and has been practiced since the beginning of civilization. However, as a society humans examined that practice and decided to change.
    Practices of the past need to be examined with today's values and priorities, not simply upheld because it is what has always been done. In terms of shark fining, these are important organisms for the ocean ecosystem and there are plenty of other foods people can and do eat. Shark fin soup is optional and the practice should stop.
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      May 29 2012: Though I do agree that regulations on commercial shark fishing should be increased, I don't think we need to abolish a cultural tradition. Instead we should help these countries maintain healthy watersheds. Over fishing has devastated fish hatcheries (especially sharks), but education, not termination is the key to success. By eliminating commercial fishing of sharks, local fisherman (non commercial) will benefit by having healthier fish populations and not have to give up a thousand year old tradition. If done correctly on a smaller scale, the fishing of sharks would not devastate the watershed, much like the US wildlife regulations on fishing in the U.S.
      Trying to abolish a cultural tradition is something that I find unethical. By stating that our way is "right" and theirs is "wrong," we are effectively dismissing thousands of years of tradition. With the aid of technology, cultures are mingling, quickly becoming homogenized. What about cultural diversity? The same Ideals of culture homogenization has led to some pretty awful things (aborigines, native american reservations). Though very dramatic examples, my point is that once a culture is lost, we can not retrieve it. I guess my question is, Should we dismiss a cultural tradition based on our western beliefs, or should we embrace the worlds cultural diversity? More importantly, where do we draw the line?
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        May 29 2012: I was not saying that we should get rid of their culture or that their culture is bad or wrong (and western society is certainly not perfect), but I was trying to say that using culture as the sole reason for an unsustainable practice seems shortsighted. I think that culture is very important and should be remembered and preserved as much as it can, but cultures also evolve and change. Certain parts of culture are held distinctly in the past (such as slavery in most parts of the world) and that is not seen as a bad thing. It is something we have moved past. I am not saying that shark fining is the moral equivalent of slavery, but it is often inhumanly carried out and is not sustainably practiced so it needs to be considered in modern terms.
        Just because something has been done for thousands of years, does that mean it is right? Should we not stop and question cultural practices from our modern lens and adjust them to fit the modern world? Cultural diversity can flourish in the modern world with some aspects being continued and some being left in the past. In many countries, child brides are common and this is a part of their cultural tradition, is that okay? Is it more or less okay than overfishing an area because your ancestors fished there, but now there are 50 times more people to feed so you have to remove 50 times the amount of fish?
        I am not advocating that cultural tradition be abolished, just that it be examined and rationalized, not continued solely based on tradition with no thought to current circumstances.
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        May 30 2012: What a great point to make with slavery. Now there's a cultural tradition! I agree with you Beatrix. I don't believe removing a food item that is considered a luxury meal will abolish Chinese culture in the least. In fact, I am fairly confident that their culture hinges on more than just a bowl of soup. Over exploitation of sharks may have profound effects on the marine ecosystem, and if we react as quickly as we are with global warming, we are likely to lose an important link in the marine food web. Putting a cap on shark catches will probably work as well as making a quota for bluefin tuna. Illegal fishing operations and under reporting of catches is a common problem in the industry and is decimating the already critically endangered bluefin tuna...all because it is a luxury food item. There are no longer "plenty of fish in the sea." If we want to maintain our massive consumption of sea food, sustainable practices need to be set in place, including bans if necessary.
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          May 30 2012: While the USA might be able to create restrictions and bans on shark finning. It will be extremely hard to implement these bans in places that actually consume shark fins. How would you propose to do that?
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    May 25 2012: Reading this conversation suddenly reminded me of the case of Denmark, where, according to sources, dolphins are massacred for reasons considered cultural and heroic. What can we draw from cases of sharks and dolphins, including any other living creature victimized by us, humans?
    Besides indifference to ecological and moral sensitivity, these instances show that we humans contradict (1) our thirst for happiness, (2) our discourses on humanity, respect for life, and animal rights, and (3) our utterances of "that cute thing,'' "it's so wonderful" and so on.
    I think that the idea of "banning" should not solely come from the idea of "extinction." It also needs to come from deeper understanding that they also want to be happy like us, that they are part of our eco-system, and so on. Reading the conversations below, i came across the word "education" and thought it a wonderful way to address the issue. Education! yes, we need to educate but why and how? As to why: pinpointing to a particular culture might be controversial, although there might be other greater concerns. How to educate is a greater question. The process would require dedication and exemplification. Our arguments need to be more convincing. Ultimately, we have to be able to generate understanding, without which we might provoke vicious circularity.
    • May 27 2012: Also: who is the educator? A bunch of rich Americans who go as environmental missionaries to Asia and preach while handing out copies of Friedman's "Hot, Flat and Crowded"? There are often times when I agree that as an outsider it is easy to see how one culture's traditions are harming the environment and should be curtailed through education (as the gentlest form of manipulation). But to manipulate another society as an outsider, unbidden is to have a hearts and minds policy that history shows us a) doesn't work and b) is morally wrong. Because such an education campaign is not about presenting objective facts and allowing the listeners to make up their own minds through logic and reasoning, but it is to argue one side of an argument in favor of your option until the audience relents in exhaustion and adopts your opinion still not understanding the complexities of their circumstances any better.
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    May 24 2012: This topic seems to come up a lot. And one prime example of where shark fin harvesting is taking a huge toll would be in the phoenix islands its a remote location and they have seen over the last ten years a huge decline in shark populations due to people coming and harvesting fins.
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    May 24 2012: Years ago I had 'shark fin' soup in Paris and even then I wished I could give that fin back to the shark. I could have lived without that soup but it was fatal for the shark.
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    May 24 2012: I think there should be more shark hunting. I mean. They're invading our beaches, fighting with our giant octopuses (And yes, its octopuses not octopi) and eating all those dudes chillin' at Lake Placid. One minute you're getting sun and then - Boom! - you're eaten by a shark. Nah, I'm joking. Sharks are interesting and awesome. Their numbers are diminishing rapidly and if they go extinct what is Hollywood going to use for gloomy, mysterious heros' to defeat? Penguins just aren't going to make the cut. I know that people depend on sharks and it's part of their culture. But the funny thing about cultures is that they have a tendency to change - thank God, because I mean, if we were still wearing corsets and only letting land owning males have the right to vote the world would suck. And this is coming from someone with a degree in Anthropology (which is 99.998% done.) I'm not saying to disregard cultures entirely. But I think that its equally dumb to try to keep cultures the same forever. I mean, even Darwin said that it wasn't the most fit individual that survived, it was the one that was best able to adapt to changes. I'm biased though. I just think the Goblin shark is the best thing ever...next to Koalas. Koalas are better.
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      May 24 2012: Cultural change is important to consider. Demand for shark fin soup increases with rising incomes throughout China, as it is still considered a delicacy and a sign of affluence. Do you think these bans would inspire a cultural shift away from shark fin soup?
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    May 24 2012: I think that this new proposal is worth a shot. It seems like not being able to simply cut off the shark's fin at sea and discard the body, but rather having to shore the bodies along with the fins, will impede fishing progress enough to allow population recovery. Although sharks will still be killed, I believe it's compromises like this that can help prevent poaching of sharks by people who would view an outright ban as unfair.
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    May 24 2012: Sharks weeks are an important part of the ocean food chain. Especially as top predators in many oceans, removal of these species can have a dramatic impact on all levels of the food chain. Sharks kill fewer people per year than vending machines-this may be ridiculous statement, but its truth drives home the point that threats of sharks to human health are not valid for justifying shark hunting. This all being said, we must consider the need for sustenance of communities that engage in shark hunting. People do not kill sharks just for fun, but rather to sustain themselves and their families for monetary income and food. Restrictions of shark hunting should include methods of ensuring the health and wellbeing of the communities affected.
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      May 24 2012: I agree that sharks can be used as a form of subsistence for many people. However, shark meat contains significant amounts of mercury that in great enough quantities can be detrimental to human health (see the link below). I would hope that subsistence hunters wouldn't use sharks as their main source of food due to the high mercury content. Sharks are mainly being threatened by commercial fishermen that sell the fins for a great profit, making it a lucrative business.

      I very much agree with your statement about vending machines, people are also more likely to die from being struck by lightning, or having a coconut fall on their head! A statistic following the same train of thought showed how in the US there were around 3300 fatalities by drowning, whereas there was only one death by shark attack in a years time.

      http://www.pbs.org/now/science/mercuryinfish.html
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    May 30 2012: Both of you bring up valid points. I agree with you Beatrix, that culture is constantly evolving. I also agree that somewhere we need to draw a line and make certain things illegal, such as slavery. All I'm saying is we need to look at the issue from all sides before making decisions that could irreversibly change culture. I have no clue how important shark fins are to Chinese culture. To eliminate shark fins completely, I would need evidence that it plays a very minor role in their culture.

    Nickie, you bring up a great point about fishing regulations. Illegal fishing is rampant in the ocean. That's why I proposed creating an organization like the Fish and Wildlife Services of America. This organization uses the profits and license fees from fishing and hunting to enforce regulation. I may have not been clear, but In my response I proposed an alternative method of fish regulation. The pacific ocean needs an organization like the fish and wildlife service. This organization would use profits from fishing to help restore native fish hatcheries and enforce regulations. By making something "illegal" we may create a conflict and riots. Creating a fish organization would "go with the grain" creating less conflicts and still restoring native fish.
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    May 30 2012: I think that stricter laws regarding shark finning is a MUST if we wish to see a decrease in the extinction risk for sharks. Although, I do not believe that laws alone can prevent the extinction due to people disobeying laws and creating more loopholes within the system. I am curious to find out what else is being done to conserve this species (ie. captive breeding programs) that could help to increase the numbers of their population which is vital to save the species.
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    May 30 2012: I feel like regardless of how long something has been a cultural tradition, if it is hurting a species to the point of possible extinction then changes need to be made. I've never had shark fin soup, nor has it been a tradition for me; so I can understand how easy it is for me to say it is wrong. I could imagine letting go of traditions that defines you and your cultural would be hard and take some time. But when an animal is endangered something needs to change. Especially if you don't even use the entire shark. Releasing it back into the open ocean alive and unable to maneuver has to be classified as animal cruelty. It seems like people are going to be given harder and harder choices in the future regarding animals, habitats, and what we need to give up in order for them to share a space on this planet with us. If it means to eat soup without shark fins, then hopefully thats what happens.
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    May 29 2012: After going through the comments I've seen a few common themes that I completely agree with:
    1. It is a sad, and useless waste to kill a shark for nothing but it's fin, and its downright inhumane to throw fin-less, mangled sharks back into the open ocean.
    2. Regulation of fishing the sharks should be put into place, especially taking into consideration the number of sharks taken, when they are taken, and where they are taken from.
    There has also been some mention of fisheries that could farm sharks for finning. I do not know the logistics of this at all, but I think that it could perhaps be a viable option, especially if they would actually take pressure off of wild sharks which are currently threatened.
    I think that this is a serious problem that should be addressed and the Chinese people should be more informed about what their delicacy is doing to the environment and the sharks. There is no hope for the sharks if the Chinese people are not supporting them, so getting them on board should really be a top priority.
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    May 29 2012: We cant regulate fisheries by international treaty. The Eastern Bluefin tuna quotas set by the regulatory body ICCAT is estimated to be 30X higher than the carrying capacity. Sharks are even harder to regulate and are more vulnerable biologically. The problem is how we fish for other fish. In the tuna and longline fisheries historically over half the fish caught were sharks. Oceanic Whitetips populations were seriously impacted. The recent increase in fin demand has essentially sounded the death knell, because now they have value as a product.
    We need better management of fisheries eg. length, depth and hook type on longlines.
    We can help protect sharks by eating less tuna and swordfish but we also have to reduce the demand for shark fin.
    To begin with we need to ban shark finning internationally at the UN level.
    All countries not just the 30 or so who have laws should ban the practice.
    In Asia we need a consumer education and regulation approach like we did in California to ban the trade and sale of shark fins.

    In the US where we are considering shark fin trade bans on the eastern Seaboard, we need to ensure that domestic shark fisheries dont expand to fill a market niche and create overfishing of domestic populations.

    There is no demonstrably sustainable shark fishery. Like here on the west coast commercial pressure have cause economic collapse and local extirpation. Sharks that are highly migratory like Great White Sharks are protected here but traverse international longline fisheries annually. Developing nations who manage local stocks and rely on sharks as food need to fish them but have to do so sustainably. A recent expedition to the Philippines by the California Academy of Sciences discovered that local sharks off Luzon had been fishes out almost completely, primarily to supply the shark fin trade.

    Shark Stewards is dedicated to stopping the shark fin trade, banning shark finning and stopping unsustainable harvest of sharks. sharkstewards.org
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    May 29 2012: I was interested to see if any polls had been conducted with cultures that consume shark fins. I had wondered if those that consume shark fins are aware of the inhumane ways fins are harvested, or how the demand for such a product are threatening many shark species to near extinction. While I could not find any polls on public awareness or the impacts of finning, I did find a poll suggesting a increased awareness of finning particularly in younger generations of China. In 2010 an online poll of 1500 soon to be wed Hong Kong residents, 65% chose to remove shark fin soup from their wedding menu, and 76% of those 19 years of age or younger were against fin soup in their wedding as well. While very little can be extrapolated from such a small poll taken in a single year, it would be safe to suggest the younger generation of China is either more aware or becoming increasingly away of the negative impacts associated with the hunting and harvesting of shark fins. Even though growing prosperity in China has increased recent demands for shark fins, it is encouraging that younger Chinese may be putting cultural traditions second to the wellbeing of species facing extinction.
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      May 29 2012: Out of curiosity, and I hope this doesn't discourage you as well, is that poll only for Hong Kong, or does it include the rest of China as well?

      I ask this because Hong Kong is an island that went back to the Chinese government relatively recently, and a poll taken from there isn't going to be the greatest reflection on Chinese demographics. This is especially since there are a lot of cultural differences between HK and mainland China, one example being that the main dialect spoken in HK is Cantonese, as opposed to the mainland Mandarin.

      (Note: Although they use the same alphabets/characters/writing system, they might as well be separate languages- I would know because I speak Cantonese and outside of working out some similarities and guesswork, I generally can't understand a Mandarin speaker.)

      Back to the subject, the point I'm trying to make is that just because demand is going down in Hong Kong, it does not mean that mainland China's demand is also going to decrease.
      I do share your hope that they'd start changing their views about this cultural practice though.
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    May 28 2012: I have no faith in banning it, however, I wait for the day when we all strive for harmony and balance, ending all commercial fishing, farming and industry.
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      May 29 2012: This is actually a really interesting idea. Do you have a proposal for how to end all of these things and then how society would function after? Does this mean you propose a more artisan way of life? Would this be for the entire world or just certain areas? Also after the development and urbanization of a lot of the world's natural resources, I'm skeptical how we can convince people that diverging back to a primal way of life is better. If you take out commercial fishing, farming, and industry will the land that we still have available be able to support all the people currently living on the planet? What I mean is, is that commercial farms support millions of people. How could the land these farms on be divided up enough for these millions of individuals to be able to farm on and sustain themselves? Its been said that in order to revert back to a primal way of living the population of the world would need to significantly decrease in order to be sustained.
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    May 28 2012: If they have a valid license from the state then they should be allowed to fish just like anyone else.

    All the best. Bob
    • May 30 2012: I agree, to an extent. The main issue I believe here is the large quantity of sharks being "finned" and thrown back into the sea. The chinese have a proverb and tradition that we generally eat anything that has it's back facing the sky. Simply meaning that we should try to use every bit of what we catch and try not to waste. Ironically, their most prized dish is also the one that waste's the most.
      If license' were granted it would regulate shark finning much better. However, it is a dream that has been long lost as this industry is now in control by those that are just in it for the money.
      Regardless, it's the majority of sharks and the humane aspect of shark finning that causes much controversy.
      Education can only do so much. It will be hard to rewrite generations of culture. Many purchase it simply for the "Status" that follows.

      Jon
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    May 28 2012: I think that since the prevalence of shark fins in Chinese and perhaps other cultures is very apparent and rooted, it would be very difficult to ban the fishing of sharks altogether. I do strongly oppose the fishing of sharks purely for their fins. The waste of such a creature for such a small benefit and the damage that removing an apex predator from an ecosystem so quickly is a huge problem. However, I think that there can be a compromise here to preserve the species and the ecosystem as well as the culture that depends on them (although I'm not sure how big of an impact removing shark fins from Chinese diet would have, for instance if it is a common good or a luxury). If there was some sort regulation on how many sharks were caught in a certain time period, this could help preserve the species, although this would be a very difficult thing to regulate. Along with this, I think that if sharks are to still be predated on by humans, it should become policy that the entire shark be used for consumption or some other human use. The removal of just the shark's fin, of which it needs to survive, and then tossing the animal back into the ocean is not only inhumane, but is also simply a waste.
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      May 28 2012: I agree whole heartedly with this comment. I have often thought about this issue not as one that can simply become a non-issue due to the deeply rooted cultural traditions in Asian societies. The only solution to this issue that I see as a current and effective choice is that of regulation as you suggested. I firmly support regulation programs to ensure that sharks are protected and allowed to thrive. In addition to your well thought out plan I would add that times of year that shark can be harvested should also be taken into consideration. For instance, it seems highly unethical to practice shark fishing during breeding season if there is one. Not allowing fishing during this crucial time would allow populations to regain some gumption and biomass. Eventually it could be possible to eliminate the practice all together but that is not a near future. There has been however a lot of newly founded preservation of nature and biodiversity in Asia and China specifically so I firmly believe that there is hope.
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      May 29 2012: I agree with both of your comments very strongly. I am against wasting sharks just for their fins, just as with hunting any animal, or fishing anything, I believe that the whole creature should be put to use, otherwise its death was useless and wasteful.
      I also agree that regulation of shark fishing could be very useful, and Nicholas, I especially like your comment of banning fishing during breeding periods. That would be a very crucial time where the sharks could either be saved or destroyed.
      And once again, Nicholas, I agree with you that yes there is hope. There is still a lot that can be done to save the sharks, and it should be done.
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    May 28 2012: I wonder, does anyone know if there is a reason for throwing the sharks back after they've been finned? Is there a cultural reason why the sharks that have been finned cannot be consumed in other ways as well?
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      May 28 2012: From what I have come to understand, the rest of the shark is deemed as bycatch. Aka they have no real use for them other than the fins. This seems pointless to me because they are wasting such a valuable resource. These sharks eventually sink to the bottom of the ocean and die, feeding bottom dwellers but it is an unnaturally fast means of killing off apex predators in the ocean that is thus wreaking havoc on the ecosystem as a whole. I would assume that we could utilize the sharks in a more economical manner but the bigger issue here is the total number of sharks being caught and finned is unsustainable in the first place.
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        May 28 2012: I agree that there must be other uses for the rest of the shark's body, even if it is not in Chinese culture. It's incredibly sad to be that these animals are being killed for such a small benefit and are left to die in such an inhumane way. Should sharks continue to be predated on, they should be used for the entirety of the resources that they could provide. In addition, the killing of such an important part of the marine ecosystem so quickly and in mass numbers will no doubt have long-term negative affects on the food chain and potentially humans as well.
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          May 28 2012: It would be interesting to count the total biomass in tonnage that is wasted through these practices. I also wonder how we could utilize these sharks for research at the very least. If people are going to kill them, do you think we could potentially find some new DNA sequencing that could be beneficial to humans?
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        May 29 2012: Sharks can be utilized for medicinal research! They produce a chemical in their livers called squalamine that has possible anti tumor and antibacterial properties. They also have a fully functioning adaptive immune system which can be used as a model for further understanding the immune system in general.
  • May 28 2012: No !

    Let me explain...

    The film "The Cove" is relevant here. The makers tapped into a deeply conditioned response of western audiences. The green, anti-humanistic mindset has grown exponentially over the recent decades. The fishermen from the town would agree with the idea that G-d gave us dominion over the fauna, flora and minerals of the Planet.

    Three Points...

    (1) The dolphins in question featured in "The Cove" are not an endangered species. Ditto all species of sharks. If the Japanese choose to eat dolphin or whale meat so be it. Aboriginals eat Kangaroo. The Inuit eat and hunt seals. Peruvians eat Guinea Pig etc.

    (2) Many animal rights activists are confused. As an example the Sea Shepherd organisation is headed by a seriously deluded “I was touched by a special animal spirit in the past” individual who happens to be good at PR.

    (3) Cinema is the dominant cultural medium of the time. It is very powerful at tweaking a certain response in the viewing audience
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      May 28 2012: You are correct in saying the dolphins featured in The Cove are not endangered, but they are definitely at risk of a local extinction with Japan allowing over 19,000 dolphins to be inhumanely killed each year. The movie was powerful, as any featuring a bloody pool of dolphins would be, and it opened up the eyes of many different cultures, not just western audiences. If people retain the belief that "God gave us domain over the fauna, flora, and minerals of the planet" then there is truly no hope for any species survival where humans are concerned.

      Sharks, on the other hand, do not have the same charismatic charm as cetaceans do. Besides being wasteful and barbaric, the act of finning does, in fact, have a huge impact on shark populations. Most sharks grow slowly, mature late and give birth to a few large pups after a long gestation period. Consequently, shark populations decline rapidly when targeted by fisheries and recover slowly, if at all. Shark populations may continue to decline, potentially to unviable levels with species becoming regionally extinct. There are now 126 species of chondrichthyan fish listed in a threat category on the IUCN’s Red List, with a further 107 species listed as Near Threatened. Over the last 15 years some Atlantic shark populations have declined by up to 90%. However due to the covert nature of the fin trade, fins originating from illegal, unreported or unregulated fisheries means that we have likely underestimated the effect on global shark populations. We (humans) are decimating our marine ecosystems past the point of no return just to satisfy selfish cultural traditions. And yes, I think culture is very important, but when it is taking priority over the health of our planet people need to take a step back and seriously consider a change.
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        May 29 2012: Only because Adam brought up Peruvians. I'm Peruvian and I eat guinea pigs, I love them , they are delicious! It is a tradition and part of my culture to do so. Now, guinea pigs breed like rabbits and are nowhere near extinction, so I don't feel bad. But if they were and people were to tell me that I shouldn't eat them because their loss would affect the ecosystem, I would probably stop! And I guarantee you many of my family members would too. Also guinea pigs are not brutally killed, but if they were I also would not eat them!
        My point is culture is important like Nickie and I agree that when the health of our planet is at risk, but people can reconsider their choices and find alternatives. And once again the people need to be educated about the environmental issues and then their opinion based on being aware needs to be taken into consideration for any policies regarding the species.
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      May 29 2012: I don't understand the relevancy of "The Cove" other than the cruelty involved in mass killings of a marine animal. I would like to draw your attention to an article published in Science in 2007 : Cascading Effects of the Loss of Apex Predatory Sharks from a Coastal Ocean.

      Here's a link:
      http://www.reddehaai.be/download/Cascading%20effects%20of%20the%20loss%20of%20apex%20predatory%20sharks%20from%20a%20coastal%20ocean.pdf

      This only demonstrates the affects of overfishing in one part of the world, but it gives a more complete view as to just how important an apex predator is to the function of an ecosystem and the negative impacts of overfishing.
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    May 28 2012: Well Kirsten ,
    If the stats which you provide are true , then it needs to be banned.But how is the big question .. If we ban it, there will be smuggling of such shark fins . Punishing those who commit such a crime will not even be aware of what they are doing..
    If I am not wrong , there is a sport where Shark killing is done
    So we must take an initiative to create an awareness on how Shark fishing impacts our ecosystem and what we can do about it ?Or how we can prevent it.


    Regards,
    Bharath
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      May 29 2012: Very true about the smuggling aspect. An integral part of the success of a ban would be dependent on how heavily it is monitored. Consequences for an action mean nothing if the perpetrator is never caught. So I guess it comes down to what would have the least cost with the greatest affect - educating millions of people, or investment in some form of catch patrol.
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        May 29 2012: In that case,We can also create a breeding centres for such sharks so that they are not endangered too at the same time identify the main regions in sea(where these sharks leave), so that we can keep some cops who can keep a check on the smuggling activity. A balance is ecosystem has to be restored otherwise , it is going to harm us human beings some years down the line .
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      May 29 2012: I agree with this, awareness campaigns aimed at the people who fish the sharks and use them either for food or medicine would educate them on shark's ecological importance. This tackels the core of the issue and might reduce consumption .
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      May 29 2012: I also agree that education and the banning of shark finning is probably the best way to try and stop or at least slow down the finning of sharks. With education comes power because as more people care about this issue, it will gain power and more can possibly be done about it.

      Another problem with completely banning shark fins is that I feel with a total ban and not just limitations, like having to bring the entire body to port and not just the fins, people are more likely to break these strict regulations. Also no country has jurisdiction in international waters to persecute the hunting of sharks.

      Therefore the ban would need to be made in all countries so that fisherman would have no where to bring their catch. Even then though it is still possible to have corruption and people who turn their heads.
      Also with shark fins having such a large Chinese cultural value it will be difficult to eliminate sharking fishing or finning entirely from the world. Is there a catch limit set on sharks? Maybe this along with the implementation of the whole body catch rule could decrease the number of sharks caught enough so that it may possibly be a sustainable fishery.
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        May 30 2012: Completely agree with you Amanda, fishing at least in not managed by government (atleast in my country ). Through TED we can write a written petition or a letter to the concerned government and get this concern addressed as it is a matter of priority on a global platform.
        Probably we can suggest them solutions for breeding of such sharks so that these species are not endangered.
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    May 28 2012: You need to make a concerted effort to look at the big picture. A world wide ban on shark fishing seems hard to understand if you live in an area where sharks are not endangered. (An interesting fact. There are more shark attacks reported in Australian waters that the rest of the world combined) They are of course still comparatively rare. It is easy to get caught up in the enthusiastic fight to save an endangered species but there are vast regional differences. Finning is of course a grotesque waste of resources if nothing else.
    Just to demonstrate the idea. In Australia we are often subjected to ad campaigns telling us how evil we are for culling the kangaroo population because Americans think kangaroos are endangered. The two species culled are the Eastern Grey and the Red. The numbers of both species are far greater now than ever in history because they inhabit cleared farm land and have thriven since white settlement.
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      May 28 2012: Yeah, I went camping near Exmouth in Western Australia and we couldn't even drive at dusk through the park because there were so many kangaroos out! Hundreds, just waiting on the side of the road. It was crazy. You definitely need a perspective on populations before you make a species conservation plan.
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      May 28 2012: Peter: I agree with you here that the big picture has a complexity of issues that no few paragraphs can come close to describing. There are undoubtedly numerous populations of sharks, and for that matter, any number of organisms that can be killed and utilized in a sustainable manner and an overall ban on shark fishing would be preposterous. It is crucial that we take each case species and ecosystem into account in a completely new light every time someone is trying to set regulations because all species in different regions of the globe need certain criteria to survive.
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      May 29 2012: I agree that a global ban is unreasonable and I think that regional bans may not be the best approach either. However, the practice needs to be regulated more intensely at a regional and global scale. Finning is cruel and absolutely wasteful. One approach could be to set a cap on shark fishing that would vary based on abundance, with strict regulations on treatment. The sharks that are hunted for their fins would be euthanized before they are removed and their bodies sent elsewhere for medical research or some other purpose.
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    May 28 2012: Yes of course. But when decision will be taken at that time it will be very late.
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    May 28 2012: I think an outright ban on shark finning and fishing will be difficult to accomplish since it would take away the livelihood of many people. However, I do believe that sustainable shark finning and fishing can be achieved. Since sharks are top marine predators, there extinction would most likely cause major disruptions in marine ecosytems, such as the overabundance of species that are normally held in check by sharks. It would require a large, multi-nation effort to strictly impose shark fishing and finning regulations. But the benefit of preserving sharks is that marine ecosytems will be preserved and humans will be able to maintain their livelihood for many generations.
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      May 28 2012: If you ban shark finning, you'd be breaking the traditional culture of what the Chinese people have been doing for centuries. I think this would be one of the most difficult things we'd have to do, however, because sharks play such an important role in our ecosystem, I think some attention should be brought upon saving shark populations. So as Heath said, I think regulations is where we should start. That could help ease the Chinese into slightly changing their traditions and then maybe eventually, if needed, we could ban it all together. But I think if we ban it right away, there'd be a lot of disagreement and chaos because many people don't understand the damage they are doing and the importance of sharks.
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        May 28 2012: Fishery regulations have long proved successful in helping declining fish populations to recover. I see no reason why new regulations on shark catch allotment could prove effective here too. I agree that an outright ban would difficult to achieve for several reasons, but I also think it unnecessary.

        Also, the issue of shark finning can be easily removed from a question of shark fishing. Finning is a wasteful form of harvest and I'm sure a balance can be struck between cultural needs and responsible fishing practices.
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          May 28 2012: Yes, shark finning is pretty wasteful, I agree. However, I don't think that the people that use shark fins as food thought about the wastefulness of it. And now, that they've built a tradition and a cultural meaning around it, the question becomes a lot more complicated than just wastefulness. But I agree, a balance between culture and responsible fishing practices is much needed.
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          May 28 2012: What we're running into in this fight to protect one of the greatest apex predators of the ocean is that this is not just a culinary aspect of Asian cultures. Shark fin also like many things in Chinese and other Asian cultures has deeply seeded roots in traditional medicine. The practice of traditional medicine is something that most of Asian cultures partake in and has been established for in some cases 5000 years. Not so easy to do demolish for the sake of biodiversity. My main question would be, how can we change the perceptions of these cultures and societies to have them better understand how important preservation is to them? As incredibly vain creatures people don't really care about anything unless it directly affects them.
    • May 28 2012: Heath,

      I agree with you that outright banning of shark fishing would be difficult to achieve. Something I find confusing is why the shark bodies are being discarded. I wonder if it would be possible to implement a partnership between those fishing for the fins themselves and those who want the shark meat itself. I know that people use shark meat for eating, etc. This partnership seems like it could help sustain the livelihood of the fisherman while also reducing the amount of sharks that are caught by having them work cooperatively. Harvest the fin and the meat. Maybe an idea like this could lessen the burden on these top predators of the sea.
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    May 27 2012: I think that shark finning should be illegal. Sharks are majestic creatures of the sea and yes they are dangerous, but removing part of the circle of life in the Ocean could cause many other problems for the ocean. Maybe, removing the loop hole could be a temporary fix, but I think overall a ban on shark fishing should be in the works. Yes I know it is an integral part of Chinese culture, but I bet other species have been integral to other cultures and I think because this is a large creature of the sea it is getting more attention and is a larger deal. I think even if it is a cultural thing, shark finning should be stopped because they are on the brink of extinction. Even taking the whole shark does the same thing. Killing sharks threatens the species and finning is mutilation, which ends up killing the innocent creature that deserves to live.