The race card gets played a lot in the shark fin soup debate, but the debate usually concerns Asian cultures. How about the cultures where the sharks are being killed? Shark populations in the Pacific are being hammered, mostly so that wealthy people in large cities can enjoy a status-building bowl of soup. Meanwhile, Pacific islanders on isolated atolls are forced to live with the ecological consequences of an ocean without sharks. Scientific studies have shown that sharks regulate the health of marine ecosystems, including coral reefs. No sharks equals no coral reefs, and Pacific people depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods, daily sustenance, and self-identification.
The recent shark conservation measures in Palau, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam, as well as pending measures in Fiji, Marshall Islands, and across Micronesia highlight how Pacific Islanders care deeply about sharks and understand their integral connection to healthy oceans, as well as culture. Manoa Rasigatale explained his people's connection to sharks in a story in yesterday's Fiji Times; similar cultural connections can be found across Oceania.
The overfishing of sharks is harming Pacific ecosystems, Pacific livelihoods, and Pacific cultures. This connection to culture should make its way into the shark conservation and shark fin ban discussion, especially in California, home to tens of thousands of Chamorros, Palauans, Tongans, Marshallese, Fijians, Refaluwasch, Samoans, Hawaiians, and other ethnic Polynesians, Micronesians, and Melanesians.