TED Conversations

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 24 2012: While sharks undoubtedly need protection, there need to be specific regulations and quotas placed on them with solid enforcement to back it up. What often happens is that a regulation is put in place, then there is no funding to enforce it. There are also many shark species that don't currently seem threatened that could be utilized in a commercial fishery, albeit one that uses the entire fish, not just its fins. Finning is one of the most brutal and wasteful practices I can think of in the commercial fishing industry since the sharks are caught, pulled on board, their fins are cut off and then they are thrown into the ocean still alive while they die a slow, painful death.
    Furthermore, since sharks are and apex predator, once they are gone the ecosystem is thrown into a tailspin. Off the West coast of the United States, the near extirpation of Great Whites caused an explosion in seal populations that then caused huge drops in other commercially valuable fish stocks. It is truly important to use our resources in the best, most efficient way possible. I don't foresee cultures giving up their rights to eating shark fins, but I can see a much more heavily regulated and sustainable fishery being set up.
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      May 24 2012: I agree with your stance, but I want to bring up a thought experiment that was once brought to my attention regarding apex predators. During the near extirpation of Great Whites, we saw a boom in seal populations. Why didn't we utilize this boom of seals for their seal blubber? In general, sharks will eat fish, squid, molluscs, crustaceans, turtles, dolphins, porpoises, rays and seals, etc. could we utilize their diet and incorporate it into our economy somehow?
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        May 24 2012: What an interesting idea; I wonder though even if we did utilize the increase of these populations wouldn't the next trophic level increase in population size, and then every trophic level after that? When would humans be able to stop checking and balancing ecosystems in order to fix a skewed trophic cascade?

        I came across an article that details the affects of top down predation control on marine ecosystems, here's a link:

        http://www.reddehaai.be/download/Cascading%20effects%20of%20the%20loss%20of%20apex%20predatory%20sharks%20from%20a%20coastal%20ocean.pdf
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        May 24 2012: While harvesting seals would undoubtedly result in a great source for blubber, etc. they were and still are protected by the Marine Mammals Act here in the United States. The problem is that the massive increase in seals hurt the lower trophic levels and, since we couldn't harvest the seals, this source of potential food was "lost" in a way. I do agree with you that it would make sense and would probably be more efficient.
        • May 29 2012: I don't think that humans filling in the gap left by sharks is the answer. I have to agree with Kirsten in that if we picked up the seal- (and other animals) eating slack left when there weren't enough sharks to keep their populations down, we would throw the food chain out of whack even more than it was already. If humans cultivated an appetite for the prey of sharks, we would consume those animals whether or not there was a need to keep the food chain in balance (i.e. whether or not there was a shortage of sharks due to shark finning or other reasons), resulting in the decline of all shark populations, even previously healthy ones. We wouldn't limit our seal and shark prey consumption by how many of these animals would naturally be eaten by sharks, but would continue hunting and catching them for as long as it was profitable. Perhaps seal blubber would become the next cultural "shark fin." In my opinion, any reason not to spark a demand for increased human consumption of a certain resource is a good one.

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