Why is shark fin soup so bad for sharks?
Shark fin soup is a delicacy originating in China, and can fetch over $100 per bowl. Fishermen catch any sharks they can (usually hammerhead, mako, thresher, and porbeagle sharks, among other species) and remove the fins. An estimated 26 to 73 million sharks are caught each year. Shark meat is worth very little compared to the fins, so the rest of the shark is thrown back overboard, often while still alive. Unable to move, the sharks die of suffocation or are eaten by another predator. This practice is now banned in some countries, and it is required that the whole shark is brought back to port before processing.
The supposed benefits of eating shark fins include healthier kidneys, lungs, and bones, but there is no evidence supporting this. In fact, shark fins may be harmful, as they can contain high levels of mercury. The United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends that children and pregnant women do not eat shark at all.
Sharks are vulnerable to over-fishing because they are K-selected animals, meaning that they grow slowly and produce relatively few offspring. Because of the indiscriminate nature of shark finning, it is difficult to keep track of which species are caught, and their conservation status. There are now 39 shark species listed on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. As shark numbers decline, other ocean organisms will suffer, as sharks are an apex predator and have wide ranging effects on their ecosystem.
Shark finning is prohibited in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and there are plans to extend the ban to the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. In many countries, there are laws regulating shark fishing, including:
- Banning shark fishing entirely.
- Banning shark finning at sea.
- Regulations based on fin to body mass ratio.
- Regulations of the trade of shark products.