Thursday, January 17, 2013

Deconstructing Shark Fin Industry Spin II


Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

The Calgary Herald this morning contains some very well constructed arguments against shark conservation in a story Opposition builds against Calgary’s shark fin ban. The topic of shark fin industry spin looks like it will be one that comes up a lot this year. Challenge accepted.

A group called Coalition for Transparent and Accountable Government “suggests that since finning is illegal and widely denounced, the shark ingredients that wind up in pricey Chinatown soups come from other means, and that most shark species aren’t at risk of becoming endangered.”

There are two questions to dissect here: (1) Are sharks fins served in Canadian shark fin soup killed by finning; and (2) are most sharks endangered?

The Coalition for Transparent and Accountable Government argues that “the majority of shark fins have been legally harvested.” They are probably right.

Shark fishing is legal in much of the world and for the most part there are no controls as long as they are not finned. There are no annual catch limits in place anywhere on the globe. And in places where maximum sustainable yield has been determined, it is often surpassed. This has led to many species being overfished and overfishing is still occurring in much of their range.

The problem of overfishing, however, is different from finning. Finning does not refer to the act of killing a shark. A shark is only considered finned when its body is dumped at sea. Shark finning determines how a shark is killed, not how many sharks are killed, or rather, how many sharks live.

It is impossible to tell if the shark fin in a bowl of soup was finned because a finned fin and a legally caught fin look exactly the same and taste exactly the same.

Therefore, banning shark fin soup has little to do with shark finning. The shark fin bans do not necessarily reduce the incentive to fin sharks, but by legislating a reduction in the trade of shark, they reduce the amount of shark parts in global trade, and ultimately the number of sharks that are killed.

Conservationists should be comfortable with this. It is not a bad thing to move away from finning campaigns because the practice has already been banned throughout most of the world. That is something to celebrate. However, the very real threat facing sharks today is not finning, but overfishing. There is still much work to be done on that. 

This leads us to the second question of whether or not most sharks are endangered. The Coalition for Transparent and Accountable Government is right, most sharks are not endangered. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assesses only 143 of the 450 or so shark species as threatened or near threatened with extinction. 143 does not meet the threshold of most sharks, it only reaches the threshold of many sharks.

However, most of those 450 sharks are deep water species that rarely come into contact with humans and they are not the species being killed for soup. Last year, the Pew Environment Group looked at what species of shark were appearing in shark fin soup and found that most of them were threatened or near threatened, including endangered scalloped hammerheads. A similar study in Vancouver had the same results.

Therefore, while most sharks are not endangered, most sharks killed for their fins are. That is why a ban on shark fin soup is justified.

Alyssa Sablan is Shark Defender's student intern.

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