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The Tide is Turning

Hong Kong Shark Foundation
Watch the Hong Kong Shark Foundation's "Tide is Turning" video.

The plight of sharks is an ongoing issue that has been brought to the forefront of ocean conservation issues in the past few years. States across the United States have enacted bans on the sale, distribution, and possession of shark fins and many countries around the world have set up legislation to prevent shark finning or established sanctuaries where all shark fishing is illegal. Hong Kong, which is home to the largest shark fin market in the world, has also seen a changing perception of sharks in the public’s eye. The University of Hong Kong and businesses such as Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Peninsula Hotels, and Hong Kong Disneyland have stopped serving shark fin to support conservation efforts and in the hopes other businesses will follow. Three of the largest supermarkets in Singapore have followed suit to try and help curb the impact consumers are having on shark populations.

A recent study, carried out by scientists at the University of Miami (UM), “discovered high concentrations of BMAA in shark fins, a neurotoxin linked to neurodegenerative diseases in humans including Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig Disease (ALS).” Toxins, such as BMAA, accumulate as you go up the food chain and sharks sit at the top of the marine food chain. This clearly poses a risk to human health and could possibly reduce demand for shark fin soup if the information reaches the public in the right way. Shark fin soup is the driving force behind the overfishing of sharks, bringing in large profits due to the “elite status” of the dish.  “Not only does this work provide important information on one probable route of human exposure to BMAA, it may lead to a lowering of the demand for shark fin soup and consumption of shark products, which will aid ocean conservation efforts,” stated Neil Hammerschlag, research assistant professor of Marine Affairs & Policy and director of the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program (RJD) at UM.

Shark fins for sale in Taiwan. Eleanor Partridge/Marine Photobank.
Shark fins for sale in Taiwan. Eleanor Partridge/Marine Photobank.

There are two sides to every issue and a recent blog post from the Wall Street Journal brings up an argument against the bans. Dr. Giam Choo Hoo, a member of a United Nations body on endangered species, claims that “Most fins are humanely taken from landed, dead sharks” and that 25% of shark catch comes from countries with poor fishermen who eat the meat. He also argues that the campaign against “Shark’s fin soup is culturally discriminatory,” claiming that similar actions have not been taken against bluefin tuna or caviar.

Contrarily, Juliet Eilperin mentions in this Washington Post article that SeaWeb’s Caviar Emptor campaign resulted in the ban of most Beluga caviar imports, driving a switch in the U.S. to farm raised caviar. In addition, many nations, including X and X, unsuccessfully pushed heavily at CITES CoP15 in 2010 to ban the trade of bluefin tuna in response to declining numbers and sharply decreased quota recommendations from scientists.

Watch SeaWeb's video on shark finning >>

List of Works Cited

Study Shows Alarming Amounts of BMAA Neurotoxins in Shark Fins, Threatening Fin Consumers. Barbra Gonzalez. Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami. February 23, 2012.

Experts Swim Against Shark Fin Debate. Shibani Mahtani. Wall Street Journal. February 21, 2012

Is the shark fin ban culturally biased? Juliet Eilperin. Washington Post. February 22, 2012.

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