Sharks have long been feared as ocean’s indiscriminate killing machines, but they also face threats like overfishing, bycatching, and finning. Sharks extinction is imminent if the current illegal trade persists.
There are 440 described sharks species According to Shark Foundation, 100 out of 440 sharks are being commercially exploited and there is no serious monitoring program to control sharks trade yet.
Some shark species are top predators, and they regulate the behavior of other prey species, according to SupportTourShark.Com. In the study conducted by the Future of Marine Animal Populations (FMAP), the loss of apex predatory from a coastal ocean has a huge impact on the ecosystem. For example, the sea turtle is a prey of the tiger shark, and the turtle grazes on sea grass bed. The absence of the predator means the turtles can graze all the time. If there are sharks in the area, the turtle’s eating behavior is regulated. The sea grass beds support various marine communities. If the predatory sharks disappear, the disruption of a diverse ecosystem could ripple across other regions.
Shark finning is the process of cutting the fins off to use in soup delicacy and traditional medicines in Asian cultures. Although the fins are tasteless, they are sought after as a status symbol by those who eat it with the soup costing $100. Shark finning is done at sea, and the rest of the shark’s body is cast into the ocean; some of them are still alive. The sharks are incapable of swimming upright when they reenter the ocean and die.
Finning, is trade movement of the fins from the fishermen to the market and finally to the consumers. The majority of the fins go to Hong Kong, Spain, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, and United Arabs Emirates. African countries as well as Japan are listed as some of the largest exporters and consumers. The problem with fin trade is the lack of landing data of some individual nations, meaning, millions are missing due to under reporting. The value of the fin is $676 per kilo, and a single dorsal fin of a whale shark is valued at $100,000, while a Basking shark fin is worth $250,000 dollars.
Bycatching is also a commercial trade and a threat. A Bycatch is the inadvertent capture of the sharks, when the target is bill fish, sail fish, or tuna. Rays and skates are bottom dwellers, and the capture by commercial fishing has a devastating impact on these sea creatures.
Climate change, pollution, and destruction of breeding grounds such as mangroves and coral reefs constitute habitat degradation. To survive and thrive, the sharks need a healthy ecosystem where they can find prey and breed. The habitat also protects their young from other predators.
Other factors that contribute to the dwindling numbers of endangered shark species are the demand for shark meat used in traditional Chinese’s medicine, shark skin and oil, and amusement purpose, such as in aquariums.
Sharks extinction is imminent if the current trend of illegal shark trade persists, scientists warned. They conducted a survey and found out that almost 100 million sharks are killed every year from a report published in the Journal Marine Policy. Within the coming decades, it is critical to protect the sharks as proposed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Among the list that needed protection are the three types of hammerhead shark, porbeagles, and oceanic white tip shark. In 2010 alone, 97 million sharks were caught, finned then tossed back on to sea to die.
According to the CITES, China and Japan are the leading consumers of shark fin, a main ingredient in making shark fin soup. The organization agreed to ban the trade shipments of the aforementioned endangered species, unless proper documentation is presented. The governments have 18 months to comply with the new regulation, acting upon protecting the CITES listed species. Only two-thirds of the votes from the countries are required for the brand-new restrictions to be in effect. However, Japan and China opposed this new regulation since 1994, citing that there are difficulties in identifying fin species.
Boris Worm, one of the researchers of Dalhousie University I Halifax, reports that sharks extinction is imminent if the existing illegal trade persists because they cannot keep up with the current demand and exploitation. Unless there are protective measures, the sharks extinction could be averted.
Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas