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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 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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