For anyone who cares about marine conservation, shark fin trade has long been a serious reason for concern. Not only because of the poor sharks that are sometimes finned alive and thrown back in the water to die, but also because these species of fish are so essential for the marine ecosystem. Every year the UN estimates that 73 million sharks are killed in our oceans (some conservationists put that number as high as 150 million!).
More than 73 million sharks are killed each year :(
But why should we care about these ocean predators? The answer is behind an intricate food chain hierarchy in the oceans which makes the shark an essential actor to maintain the balance across several species that feed us humans - including shellfish, squids and thousands of species of fish. They also maintain the numbers balanced in species like whales, seals and other mammals, which in turn allow algae and plankton to grow and recycle our air, for example (contrary to popular belief that forests are the "lungs of the world", marine algae is responsible for the vast majority of photosynthesis in our planet, where these plants convert carbon dioxide back into oxygen).
So, now that we know why sharks matter, we need to understand why they are fished in such huge numbers. The answer is almost illogical - not to say stupid - but it relates to an old belief that shark fin has special properties for erectile disfunction, which also led people to see shark fin as a delicacy and symbol of status. Yes, that's right - to put simply, most of the fins brutally lacerated from sharks are sold at a huge price to men, specially in Asia, who need a bit of help getting it up. I know what you're thinking: didn't anyone tell them about Viagra??
Unfortunately, people continue to believe the myth and this market continues to thrive. But there is a silver lining! This June 2019, just over a month ago, Canada became the first ever country to ban shark fin trade in the world - well done Canada!!!
In June 2019 Canada became the first country to ban shark fin trade in the world :)
Undoubtedly a massive win not only for conservationists but for the human race. And what is really amazing about this move is that Canadians were bold enough to pass a legislation that will completely eliminate from their economy an activity that just in 2018 imported 148 tons of shark fins. The move has already sparked discussions in other G20 countries, including the US that is considering similar legislation.
Of course, more action is needed to protect sharks and our oceans, but making the activity illegal and curbing consumption is an effective measure to limit the damage - as it was the case with the ivory trade which was banned in the 90s and saw the numbers dwindling fast after that.
So, what can you do to help? Firstly, not ordering shark fin soup and actually not supporting any restaurant that offers this delicacy at the expense of a brutally mutilated shark! But shark meat also makes its way in many other products that we may consume unknowingly, including even cosmetics and pet food. Some restaurants and supermarkets will also sell shark meat disguised as other names such as Flake, Huss, Rock Salmon, Lemon fish, Dogfish, and many more (for a full list in various languages see this link). In other words, if the list of ingredients look suspicious, it's worth checking :)