The Future

Cheung Chau port in Hong Kong (photo courtesy of flickr user Alfredo López)

Cheung Chau fishing port in Hong Kong (photo courtesy of flickr user Alfredo López)

Public awareness about the cruelty and unsustainability of finning is steadily growing, thanks to much of the media attention around government-issued shark fin bans. However, these singular bans neglect various aspects of human behavior, as well as shark biology. There is a shortage in information around the exact numbers of fished sharks and of which species are being killed; reliable sources estimate the wide range of 26-73 million hunted sharks each year. A great amount of research, such as the genetics of finned sharks, needs to be completed before placing strict enforcements and/or bans on our oceans. With this, a ban only tackles one issue, which is the finning method. It does not address the problem of sustainability or targeted populations of sharks in the ocean. One way of creating a more holistic regulation is to implement national dockside monitoring. When fishermen arrive at seaports, administrators can check for caught fins. With this comprehensive intermediary regulation, governments can promote the fins-attached law, which allows for whole sharks to be brought on shore only if the fins are naturally attached. This way, scientists and researchers will be able to recognize the types of sharks that are caught in the trade. In addition, a clear-cut ban overlooks fishermen that hunt for subsistence. Therefore, dockside enforcement will act as the most thorough legal implementation until further studies can address international ecological sustainability, human needs, and animal cruelty altogether.

From a citizen’s standpoint, the shark fin debate is one that does not affect their everyday life. Many live hundreds of miles away from the coast, far from the sight of a shark. Although, with Chinese communities expanding, bringing their traditions and food with them, shark fin soup evolved into an inland and coastal issue. Critics of shark fin bans and regulations argue that it impedes upon centuries of Chinese traditions, undermining a longstanding custom. Some groups, such as the Chinatown Neighborhood Association in San Francisco, claim that the ban targets Asian American communities, hurting restaurant owners and merchants. With this, education is key to preventing further generations from inheriting an appreciation for shark fin soup at special events. Breaking the collective mindset, around shark fin as a delicacy, begins with everyday awareness of the costly consequences of overfishing. Aside from introducing the harmful effects of finning to younger Chinese consumers, chefs can experiment with alternative ingredients, such as synthetic fins or ‘finless’ soups, for those who choose to dine on the culinary tradition. Regardless, sharks play a significant role in the ocean’s food system, maintaining balance as apex predators. Even if you have never heard of or tasted shark fin soup, the ocean remains one of the earth’s last territories of inquiry and adventure. It is likely that many shark populations will go extinct and unexplored if action is not taken soon through efforts of concerned everyday citizens.