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?


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.


Kirsten Gotting

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    May 27 2012: The consumption of shark fin soup is an integral part of many cultures and communities and disallowing this practice altogether would be culturally degrading and counterproductive. Although sharks are dangerous creatures whose primary goal is probably to do physical damage to humans, having at least some sharks around in order to retain balance to food webs and to give documentarians a definitively threatening species to display to the public is probably necessary. If the consumption of shark fin soup allows for the extinction of all sharks, then Shark Week would lose its instructive value of warning people to not veer too far out of their comfort zone, lest they be bit by a jawful of jagged razors.

    The point is, given that we know that finning sharks causes them to be incapable of swimming, resulting in their suffocation (which is probably less painful than bleeding out from a shark bite), it is necessary that we keep in mind that human beings incorporate shark fin soup as an incredibly important part of several cultures and communities. Forcing people to stop a practice that does not harm other people and does not have the potential to harm people when this practice can just be monitored and limited instead seems excessive. It is my proposal that there is a cap on the amount and type of sharks that can be finned and that a population of inland, farmed sharks, perhaps, be established for the purpose of removing their fins for shark fin soup. This practice should not run rampant, but it would be unnecessary to ban it; instead, shark finning should be regulated.
    • May 27 2012: Katie, I'm sorry to say, but you are crazy wrong. As a scuba diver, I know that sharks are the most amazing creatures, quite and beautiful, and if we kill them off (which we surely will with your silly plan) then the whole planet will suffer. Sharks play a vital role in the ecosystem of the oceans on which all life depends, even yours. To mistakenly say that sharks are dangerous shows that you have gotten your information from the media, rather than informed sources. If you would be willing to allow me to cut off your leg and then throw you onto the highway, please let me know. Every shark that is finned is a target and is brutally killed or drowns for what?? Soup??? Really. The Chinese and anyone else can just eat something else. All shark finning must be banned and prosecuted to the highest level. If we do not halt this disgusting abuse, our world will be that much closer to extinction. Of course, you probably don't think that global warming is real eaither.
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        May 27 2012: Given that shark fin soup is a luxury item in Chinese culture, it is fair to say that the consumption of this soup is not a very frequent occurrence. It would be an inappropriate conflation of the word "luxury" with the word "pedestrian" to suggest that shark fin soup is consumed so often that this practice alone would lead to the extinction of all shark species. I am aware that the consumption of this difficult-to-prepare delicacy has doubled in the past 15 years, but it is still unlikely that killing at this rate will lead to extinction in the rapid timeframe that you suggest.

        The decision made by people who have never been a part of the culture and who do not understand the significance of a practice that dates back to the 14th century could probably never truly grasp why some Chinese people find this practice permissible. Your cultural misunderstanding is readily apparent when you categorize a large and very diverse population as "The Chinese." My argument is not to let finning run rampant. I do not say that extinction of this species would be beneficial, and, I argue the opposite. I contend that the creation of a designated population of sharks to be finned would solve the majority of this problem.

        An inland shark farm would avoid a lot of the drawbacks of open-ocean fish farming, like pollution, escaping fish (sharks, in this case), disease, etc. while still allowing a breeding population to create enough sharks to meet the demand produced by cultural factors. This proposal avoids the removal of sharks from their ecosystems, except for a small population to begin the farm. It is likely that with an actual farm established, finned sharks would have to be euthanized after fin removal, which alleviates your bullying concern.

        Absent changing the by-catch laws that encourage a significant amount of finning solely because of opportunistic reasons, an inland shark farm is probably the best solution to the problem of shark finning in the open ocean.
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      May 27 2012: I have to agree with Doug here. Saying that letting shark populations decrease only because they will have no clear impact on humans is absurd. For example shark populations off the east coast of the US have decreased 99% in the past 50 years leading to an increase in mesopredator populations such as rays which in turn eat all the bay scallops, ruining the scallop industry for humans. Sharks are way more valuable alive than they are dead due to the tourism industry.

      And I hope everyone realizes that sharks are not as scary as they are portrayed to be. For every 1 human killed by a shark 10 million sharks are killed by humans. You are more likely to die from being struck by lightning or bee stings than a shark attack.
    • May 27 2012: I understand that you place more value on culture and tradition than on the lives of these organisms. While I don't agree with your view on this, I came here to discuss your view that sharks are dangerous.
      "Although sharks are dangerous creatures whose primary goal is probably to do physical damage to humans"
      What? Sharks primary goal, along with every other creature, is to eat and to reproduce. Sharks rarely ever have any interaction with humans, and it only occurs when we get into their areas. Anyone who spends any time scuba diving will tell you they know the dangers they are facing. World wide, there are about 60 shark attacks each year. Not every one of those victims dies. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_attack) That is not a large number, especially in comparison to the 26-70 million shark fins harvested each year. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_finning)

      My point is that shark attacks are not something anyone should be scared of. What is much more scary is considering the reverberations down the food chain that could happen if this apex predator is hunted to extinction. These are food chains that supply food for tons of humans all over the world. We would be much more negatively impacted by the loss of sharks then we currently are by the number of humans killed in shark attacks.
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        May 27 2012: The following sentence is probably sufficient to prove that the statements that I made about how dangerous sharks are were tongue-in-cheek:

        "If the consumption of shark fin soup allows for the extinction of all sharks, then Shark Week would lose its instructive value of warning people to not veer too far out of their comfort zone, lest they be bit by a jawful of jagged razors."
        • May 27 2012: It's good that you clarified! I was wondering how it turned out that I was largely appalled with two paragraphs by a person and largely agreed with the next few paragraphs by the same person.
        • May 28 2012: Haha stupid me for not picking up on that. Thanks for clarifying, I was a bit dumbfounded by the thought that someone was all for fishing for sharks because they were scared of shark attacks.
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        May 29 2012: I think it's important that you brought up how shark attacks on humans are very rare, because their conservation efforts may be hindered by misconceptions, such as that sharks actively seek humans for food. More people would support shark conservation if they understood that sharks generally don't pose any threats to humans.

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