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 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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