The Extinction of Sharks
Each year more than 60 million sharks are killed by humans. Partly because of their fins for shark fish fin soup, as bycatch in up to 40 miles long driftnets of enormous fishing fleets, for medically completely ineffective cartilage powder or by the destruction of their habitats.
You will find shark products often at unexpected places as in restaurants, snack bars or supermarkets. Shark meat is offered also under various other names as Smoked Rock Salmon, Smoked Dogfish, a component in Fish & Chips or Imitation Crab Meat (Surimi). Also the worldwide protected and extremely threatened whale shark is on the Asian market (mainly Taiwan and Japan) still offered as Tofu Shark.
Besides the British the Germans consume most spiny dogfish. They produce the so-called “Schillerlocken” out of the sharks belly. The British use the spiny dogfish for “Fish & Chips “. This kind of shark is strongly overfished and its existence in the Northeast Atlantic decreased in the last 40 years by 90%.
Principal customers for shark fins are mainly eastern cultures in which shark fin soup represents a cultural meal. It is a remarkable fact that a shark fin, which consists to 90% out of cartilage, is extensively tasteless and only after days of boiling up in a broth becomes soft and gets the taste of the broth. Today shark fin soup is a status symbol because of the strongly risen prices within the last few years.
We can find shark products also in dog fodder, fish flour and even in fertilizers. From shark skin leather products such as purses, shoes or clock bracelets are produced.
Shark liver oil is frequently a component of the well-known cod-liver oil. In the health sector shark cartilage powders is marketed as fit making food additive although shark cartilages contains absolutely no fit making or other wholesome ingredients.
Most problematic is the marketing of shark cartilage as an anti-cancer means. A publication published in “Cancer Research” confirms that shark cartilage preparations showed absolutely no effect against cancer.
However in the gel sector (food/pharmacy) shark collagen has few market chances although particularly Spain tries to penetrate into the market with shark collagen. Spain, one of the world largest shark fin producer, has forbidden to bring only the fins of sharks ashore. According to law the whole shark bodies must be brought now ashore. This leads now to the ridiculous result that they produce out of the bodies the completely ineffective cartilage powder.
In the cosmetics sector from shark cartilage won collagen is used for anti-fold creams and other preparations. Collagen from sharks is free of BSE and more kosher which makes it interesting for the Arab and Israeli markets.
Finning is called as the cruel cutting off the fins of the sharks. Often the sharks are still alive at this time. The trunk of the shark (dead or alive) is then thrown as redundant ballast over board. The shark fins constitute only approx. 14% of the total weight of a shark but bring in on the international market substantially more than shark meat. The fins are used exclusively for shark fish fin soup. Finning is cruelly however lucrative; for a kilo of shark fins in Asia an average over 100 US Dollar is paid.
Hong Kong and the mainland China dominate the world-wide shark fin market to 50%. Statistics from Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong point a growth like an explosion of the trade with shark fins.
Already 15 years ago according to official data of the customs authorities of Hong Kong 6’954 tons of shark fins were released for the re-export. The number of exported fins might have increased by a multiple since then. They predominantly go to Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and China.
Taiwan ranks at place five in the world-wide shark fin trade. It maintains the world-wide largest fishing fleet, which fishes primarily in international waters, far away from the own territorial waters.
The shark existence of the east coast of the USA decreased in the last years substantially. The number of hammerhead sharks sank around 89%, those of thresher sharks around 80%, those of the great white sharks around 79%. The populations of mako sharks, blue sharks and tiger sharks sank around 40-65%. The existence of sandbar sharks were reduced by overfishing by 85-90%.
Canadian researchers announce a decrease of the oceanic whitetip shark by around 99%. They are almost extinguished in certain regions already.
In the USA, along the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, annually approx. 2.5 million sharks are fished by sportfishing (game fishing). From that approx. 20-40% (500’000 – 1’000’000 sharks) got killed.
Sharks are not only caught actively for their meat, fins or cartilages. Millions of sharks die as non-usable catch (bycatch) in the nets and longlines of the swimming fish factories. The population of all sorts of sharks is worldwide extremely threatened.
Sharks cannot longer compensate the losses in all their habitats. Many kinds of sharks are critically endangered, some apply already today as biological extinct!
Particularly from China, where the need of luxury goods and status symbols strongly increased with the introduction of the free market, threatens now the final out for the sharks.
If, according to newest studies, the Chinese economy and the associated prosperity should continue equally, in a few years more than 300 million Chinese will be financially able to afford shark fin soup regularly.
The fishery and the world-wide operating shark fin dealers get already prepared to supply them “on time”. This time might be the definitive end for the sharks!