I’m still surprised when other conservation funders or even NGOs ask us why we work to protect sharks, indicating that this is a “single-species” issue among a platform of ADMCF initiatives that generally is much broader in tone.
I’m surprised when we have to point out that there are at least 440 species of sharks and that as apex predators they are critical to the health of our oceans. This is in no way a single-species issue and ultimately is integrally connected to the health of our commercial fisheries.
The initiatives against consumption of shark fin soup we support have much more to do with protecting our oceans, which are in significant decline. At least a third of shark species are threatened with extinction and some species have dropped in numbers by as much as 90 percent in recent years.
Sharks cannot easily recover from overfishing because they reproduce slowly, taking years to mature and producing few offspring. If we continue to fish shark at current rates, they simply won’t be part of our ocean life in the not too distant future, with potentially disastrous consequences for us all.
For 400 million years sharks (despite their negative image largely, thanks to Jaws) have helped to maintain and regulate the balance of our marine ecosystems. We don’t know exactly what our oceans would look like without sharks but we do know there would be significantly less biodiversity. Studies have shown that regions where there are more apex predators have more biodiversity, while areas without them show clear absences.
Still, every year perhaps as many as 73 millions sharks are caught – tens of millions of these for their fins alone. Although many sharks are landed and brought to shore with their fins attached, in order to save space on fishing boats, in many instances sharks are finned at sea and the body is discarded into the oceans, meaning the sharks drown. Any food value in the large body is wasted.
And Based on FAO statistics, global shark catches are likely to be underestimated by an astonishing three to four-fold.
Hong Kong plays an important role, with 50 percent of the shark fin trade passing through the city – much of it re-exported legally or illegally to China and the rest consumed locally, mostly at wedding or corporate banquets in soup.
Shark finning is an issue that ADMCF has been working with local conservation groups to highlight and advocate against in Hong Kong. Over the past five years we have supported research, appeals to the hospitality industry and rest of the corporate sector to stop serving and consuming shark fin soup.
With local organizations we have worked to build awareness among the general public about the biodiversity consequences of decimating our shark populations. Legislators have been approached to push the Hong Kong government to consider at least ceasing the consumption of shark fin soup at government banquets – something that in reality should be easy since the dish is expensive!
Ultimately, of course, we would all like the Hong Kong government to follow the world trend and consider a ban on the shark fin trade in Hong Kong.
Earlier this year, Bloom released important research on local attitudes to shark consumption that was publicized widely in local Chinese and international media. This research fundamentally changed the debate– from shark fin as an untouchable cultural issue to a global concern characterised by changing local attitudes.
And in an encouraging recent decision, the Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels announced a ban on shark fin at all outlets including its Peninsula hotels as of Jan. 1. This was a major shift and key step in engaging Hong Kong’s leading hotels on a collective ban. Conservation International and Bloom Hong Kong are organizing a meeting of top Hong Kong hotel executives in January 2012 to discuss what initial steps they might take toward removing shark fin from restaurant menus.
Meanwhile, WWF and the HK Shark Foundation have managed to sign up more than 110 companies and industry groups in Hong Kong to a pledge not to serve shark fin soup or consume other shark products in the course of official business. Many others have privately committed to follow the ban but have asked not to named publicly.
Indeed, the number of shark conservation organisations in Hong Kong pressuring the government, the corporate community and the trade is at an all-time high. Social and mainstream media shows that public sentiment is shifting and the momentum against consumption of shark fin is continuing to build both here and abroad.
Increasingly people do understand the importance of sharks to our marine ecosystems. There is little doubt in most minds that protecting sharks is not a single-species issues.