Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQ) from the Fin Free Movement. Submit your own questions in the comment section below and we will try to incorporate them!
Sharks have been swimming on this planet for over 400,000,000 years and help to keep the ocean’s ecosystem in balance.
Sharks have been on top of the ocean’s food chain for all of that time and keep marine life in a healthy, regulated balance. By helping to keep the ocean healthy, they are protecting a resource that produces more oxygen than all of the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s manmade carbon monoxide, and controls our planet’s temperature and weather.
As the apex predators of the oceans, the role of sharks is to keep other marine life in healthy balance and to regulate the oceans. Remove sharks and that balance is seriously upset. Studies are already indicating that regional elimination of sharks can cause disastrous effects including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs.
- One study in the U.S. indicates that the elimination of sharks resulted in the destruction of the shellfish industry in waters off the mid-Atlantic states of the United States, due to the unchecked population growth of cow-nose rays, whose mainstay is scallops.
- Other studies in Belize have shown reef systems falling into extreme decline when the sharks have been over-fished, destroying an entire ecosystem. The knock-on effects are frightening: the spike in grouper population (thanks to the elimination of sharks) resulted in a decimation of the parrotfish population, who could no longer perform their important role: keeping the coral algae-free.
- Studies are already indicating that regional elimination of sharks can cause disastrous effects including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs.
One study in the U.S. indicates that the elimination of sharks resulted in the destruction of the shellfish industry in waters off the mid-Atlantic states of the United States, due to the unchecked population growth of cow-nose rays, whose mainstay is scallops.
Other studies in Belize have shown reef systems falling into extreme decline when the sharks have been over-fished, destroying an entire ecosystem. It was a chain reaction: the spike in grouper population (thanks to the elimination of sharks) resulted in a decimation of the parrotfish population, who could no longer perform their important role: keeping the coral algae-free. Corals rely on sunlight for photosynthesis, and die when encrusted in algae. Parrotfish are also important!
Some shark populations have dropped by 90%. The oceanic white tip shark has been decreased by 99%! All in the last thirty years! Sharks are being fished at the rate of 100,000,000 sharks per year. 10,000 sharks an hour.
One third of all pelagic sharks are threatened with extinction, and half of the shark species targeted by commercial fisheries are threatened. In 2010, The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species included 74 shark species as being at high risk of extinction (Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable).
Another 72 shark species are currently approaching threatened status (Near Threatened) and another 232 shark species are listed as Data Deficient since there is not enough information available to assess their population numbers. Effectively, as there are roughly 500 species of sharks, the IUCN has assessed 30% of all shark species at either a High Risk of Extinction or approaching this status. And for almost every one of these species, the population trend is “Decreasing” or “Unknown”.
For many shark species, the IUCN lists “shark finning” as the main cause of population decline. Concurrently, some of the species at greatest risk are those that are highly prized in the shark fin trade including Great and Scalloped Hammerheads, listed as Endangered / at a Very High Risk of Extinction. Additionally, Smooth Hammerhead; Great White Shark; Whale Shark; Basking Shark; Oceanic Whitetip; Shortfin and Longfin Mako; Porbeagle Shark; Sand Tiger Shark; Bigeye, Common and Pelagic Thresher; Sandbar Shark; and the Dusky Shark – are all listed as Vulnerable / at a High Risk of Extinction.
Sharks reproduce very slowly, have long gestation periods and reach sexual maturity very late, and as a result, do not get a chance to rebound their population numbers before being indiscriminately fished out again. Sharks have survived more than 400 million years, but at the current rate of destruction, they are not considered a renewable resource. Some scholars estimate sharks could fundamentally disappear within the next ten to twenty years.
Sharks, often while still alive, are pulled from the ocean after fighting for hours if not days on long lines. The fins sliced off and the animal is thrown back into the sea, unable to move, to die a slow and painful death – either suffocating, bleeding to death or being eaten alive.
The majority of sharks’ fins are used for shark fin soup. Another major concern is that shark products (such as squallene and shark oil ) are used for a shocking amount of different products, including energy drinks, vitamins, pet supplements, dog toys, lipsticks, lotions, shark leather, and vaccines.
Shark fin soup has been a highlight at important occasions such as corporate banquets, weddings, and New Year’s celebrations for centuries. But, over the last 30 years, the number of people eating shark's fin has risen from a few million in the 1980’s to more than 300 million today.
Shark fin is a tasteless ingredient added to soup flavoured with chicken or pork broth and spices. And while the supply is plummeting, the demand for shark fin is putting our planet’s sharks, and health, at risk.
Shark fin soup has been a Chinese delicacy since the Ming Dynasty during which time, only the Emperor and his guests ate it. Until about thirty years ago, shark fin soup was served mostly in Hong Kong and other cities with Chinese populations, but only rarely in China itself. This relatively low consumption of shark fin soup did not result in a significant problem for shark survival. The popularity of shark fin soup rose in the 1980’s as standards of living began to improve, and today, it is considered a status symbol at banquets, weddings and other special occasions. Serving it demonstrates the host’s wealth and prosperity given the soup’s price – upwards of $400 per bowl.
Shark Fin Soup is either served with fins intact, or where shark fin strands are pulled apart and served to add texture like a noodle would. The fin adds no nutritional value, and in fact, in most cases, can be dangerous to human health because of the extremely high levels of mercury present in shark meat and products.
Shark fin soup is consumed in Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and Thailand, although it is most commonly associated as a Chinese delicacy. The consumption of shark fin soup is mistakenly defended as a long-standing Chinese tradition, despite the fact that it has only started becoming accessible to the mainstream in the last 50 years due to its’ extremely high price and elitist reputation. In a recent survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong Social Sciences Research Centre, shark fin soup was part of a set menu in 86.9% of the cases, indicating that people mostly consume it because it is a pre-ordered item; with 78% of the respondents noting it is acceptable to leave it off the wedding menu. 85% of the respondents expressed strong or moderate support for the prohibition of the import of shark fins and 87.9% felt that the Hong Kong government should prohibit the sale of products that involve killing endangered species, showing a growing trend of refusal to support shark finning practices amongst the Hong Kong population.
Recent studies show precipitous declines in shark fin soup imports to China - as much as 70% - awareness is changing the world already!
Because sharks have high levels of methyl-mercury in their flesh, consuming shark can cause mercury poisoning, leading to sterility, nervous system issues and birth defects.
Sharks reproduce far slower than other fish species. Most bony fish tend to reach sexual maturity quickly—perhaps within a year—and can have millions of eggs each year.
In contrast, sharks reach sexual maturity after ten or more years and then produce very few offspring. This makes it even harder for sharks to naturally recover from overfishing.
Sharks are also struggling with the contamination of their environment. Not only have sharks absorbed the highly toxic methyl mercury which comprises, amongst other things, their ability to reproduce successfully, but now scientists are also finding other strange neurotoxins (possibly linked to brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) in their flesh.
Chemicals, whether dumped or via run-off, enter the food chain and become concentrated as they make their way up the food chain. The massive amounts of plastic pollution in our ocean breaks down into small polymer particles which will take hundreds if not thousands of years to bio degrade..- Some seawater has 7 times more plastic in it than zooplankton. All of these chemicals are slowly poisoning the sharks – and anyone who dares to eat them.
As if that wasn’t enough bad news, sharks are also threatened by the destruction of habitat. Many sharks and rays rely upon estuaries as nurseries for their young.
And sadly, estuaries around the world are disappearing. Not only are the fragile ecosystems more susceptible to pollution and overfishing, they are often considered prime real estate.
The majority of sharks are not caught for their meat, but rather for their valuable fins, which can fetch more than $400 per pound. Shark meat, on the other hand, is worth only a few dollars per pound and often not worth keeping , resulting in the wasteful practice of shark finning.
Because sharks are very large and most fishing fleets do not have the space or freezers to handle the entire animal, and want only the most profitable “catch” , many sharks are finned, and their bodies are thrown back into the sea.
Shark finning occurs at sea, and most of the oceans are unprotected, or are governed by laws that are hard to enforce. With a lack of enforcement finning continues illegally and is often associated with organized crime. High market demand and fin prices drive the trade and shark finning occurs almost everywhere there are sharks., Many shark species are now endangered and at a very high risk of extinction.
Public pressure has resulted in a ban of shark finning in many countries around the world. But to be more effective, a ban on the trade of fins is necessary.
Hong Kong currently handles at least 50%, and possibly up to 80%, of the world’s shark fin trade, with the majority of supply arriving from Europe, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen, India, Japan and Mexico. The illegal trade in shark fins is rampant, and it is therefore extremely difficult to discern between the importation of ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’ shark fins.
In 2006, Dr. Shelley Clarke’s analysis of shark fin markets in Hong Kong estimated that upwards of 73 million sharks are being killed each year for the shark fin trade - about three times more than the official catch number reported to the United Nations. This data was obtained from cooperative traders of shark fins in Hong Kong and estimates that if this number is converted to shark weight, about 1.7 million tons of shark flesh is harvested each year – three to four times higher than the United Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimate.
Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have boomed as the main shark fin trading centers in the last fifteen years due to the popularity and increased consumption of shark fin soup. The over-fishing of sharks driven by demand for Shark Fin Soup is the leading cause of the dramatic decline in shark populations around the world.
With the popularization of sustainable or vegetarian versions of the soup internationally, many people are recognizing the importance of sharks by shunning this ‘tradition’ and opting out for ethical menu items for their special occasions.
Yes. Shark populations have dropped 90%, and many face extinction within our lifetimes. While most people are aware of the plight of the charismatic ocean creatures, like dolphins, turtles and whales, few know are aware of the decimation for sharks.
The oceans are so vast that for centuries we believed them to be inexhaustible. Today, we know that 7 billion people are having a massive impact on the oceans, and many species are on the brink of extinction. What happens in the oceans is so far removed from our daily activities, that we don’t see the impact, the waste, or the cruelty. A large majority of people are either not aware of the importance of oceans to life on earth, or don’t care because it doesn’t seem to affect them directly.To some it is simply to too much of an inconvenience to change their habits. But many people do learn, and they do care- they simply feel paralyzed by the magnitude of the problem and the many issues we are facing. To those we say “Don’t be overwhelmed and take one step at a time”.
Sharks are an important part of our life support system!
The frightening reality is, like them or not, sharks play a crucial role on this planet. Our existence is, in part, dependent on theirs. Sharks are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world with food, produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s manmade carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), and controls our planet’s temperature and weather. As the apex predators of the oceans, they keep other marine life in healthy balance. Remove sharks and that balance is seriously upset. Studies are indicating that regional elimination of sharks can cause disastrous effects including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs.
Ethical practices to safeguard sharks, our oceans and our planet are not only the responsibility of individual people, but also the responsibility of business. That is why we encourage businesses and restaurants owners to go Fin Free and celebrate their achievements with a Fin Free Certification. Let us know if we can sign you up! ! If you know of a business or restaurant that is serving shark fin products and want to encourage responsible business practices, here are some resources to help:
- Download our Restaurant Letter to ask the business owner to end the sale and trade of shark products.
- If you don’t get the results you want, we encourage you to build community support with a business petition showing the owner that there is larger consumer demand for them to go Fin Free.
- We advise all individuals and groups to speak with business owners in a friendly and respectful manner at all times.
Remember that the movement to ban shark fins is not based on race or nationality, and while the discussion might make some people feel uncomfortable, we are addressing the shark fin trade from all aspects. This includes consumers, businesses, retailers, shark fishermen, traders, lawmakers, fisheries experts and governmental agencies and most importantly, vulnerable sharks -- none of which are associated with one race or culture. Global awareness reflects the cultural shift we are seeing: people of all backgrounds want to protect sharks for generations to come.