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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: I think that banning would not be the solution since this is something that can be done illegally.However, there needs to be more restrictions and enforcement. Some sort of quota system during specific fishing seasons which is based on the shark population status, its life history, reproduction period, etc. would allow for the needs of the two interest parties to meet (the people who have culturally used shark fin and conservationists). Also like many have suggested, it would be good to make use of the whole shark and not just part of it. If not banned, then those that are making money of shark fishing can be licensed and follow a series of guidelines of how to humanly fish for sharks coupled with high surveillance. Of course first, its important to get the shark population up before any of this could come into play, but I think its important to address the needs and cultural beliefs of the people.
    • May 29 2012: Stephanie,

      I completely agree with you. It is very important to carefully consider the cultural beliefs of people. It is very easy for people to disregard a cultural belief that they cannot identify with, such as eating something rather exotic like shark fin soup. This serves as one of those reminders that we need to be able to look at the issue from another perspective. If this was a debate about an American tradition I think many in this circle might feel differently. That being said, along with taking into consideration the cultural beliefs of the Chinese, obviously the ecological well being of shark populations needs to be prioritized. Be this via the use of permits or just overall more strict and rigorous regulations with increased education, shark populations need to be protected. As many people have mentioned, sharks are keystone predators meaning that their presence greatly influences the function of marine ecosystems. We do not want to risk having to see what their loss would mean for our marine ecosystems. After all, if there are no more sharks there is no more shark fin soup and everyone loses.
      • May 29 2012: This is possibly where fisheries might fit in as a viable solution in order to allow for a balance of tradition and shark protection. However, the use of fisheries may also go against the traditional means of producing the soup. Although it has been said, I am curious as to whether highly regulated laws would dramatically decrease illegal exploitation of sharks in the water. I say this because, fisheries (for some reason) do not resonate well with me even though they make sense logically.
      • May 30 2012: Anna,
        I think both you and Stephanie make a really excellent point. I think your final point is especially important. The people whose customs include the consumption of shark fins aren't going to want to give this custom up completely, but that is exactly what they will be facing if the shark population continues to decline. I wonder if presenting the idea of shark conservation to the Chinese people from this perspective, rather than from our own perspectives, would encourage them to take a greater part in conservation efforts? We don't have to share their cultural beliefs or support their reasons for decreasing exploitation, but we can respect them. With enough respect and the right kind of education system, maybe we can actually get something done.

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