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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 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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