How Can We Ask Others to Ban Shark Finning If We Won't Outlaw it Ourselves?

If California (and Hawaii, Oregon and Washington state) can help spread the idea that shark fin soup is not desirable, then the global impacts for sharks could be significant. And, in the meantime, if we can directly reduce shark fin soup consumption by about 5%?
 

If California (and Hawaii, Oregon and Washington state) can help spread the idea that shark fin soup is not desirable, then the global impacts for sharks could be significant. And, in the meantime, if we can directly reduce shark fin soup consumption by about 5%?

A shark without fins is dead. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Without fins, a shark can’t swim. Without fins, a shark can’t escape predators, seek shelter or catch food. Without fins, a shark can’t even breathe. Without fins, a living shark is already dead.

This is the fate that awaits every shark caught by shark finners, a scattered group of fishermen that supplies the key ingredient for shark fin soup. Not sure how shark finning works? This National Geographic video should clear a few things up. Put simply, it’s one of the cruelest and most barbaric forms of “hunting” we humans have invented yet. 

Approximately 73 million sharks die this way every year
. Most of them are still alive when their fins are sliced off. Shark finning is already illegal in American waters, but the sale of shark fins is still legal in 49 of the 50 states (Hawaii recently outlawed the practice with a ban that goes into effect July 1, 2011). This irony may soon be corrected in California, where state assembly member, Paul Fong, recently introduced a bill that would ban the sale of shark fins in the state. Similar legislation is also advancing in Oregon and Washington state.

Shark fin soup was once reserved for the very rich, and the very important occasions (elite weddings, banquets, state dinners). Now, that has all changed. Many Asian countries — the largest markets for shark fin soup — have seen an explosion of wealth in their middle class. With that wealth has come a rising demand for luxuries and status symbols, including shark fin soup. All told, China consumes approximately 95 percent of the world’s shark fin soup. So, why ban shark fin soup in places like Hawaii and California? If 95 percent of the problem resides in Asia, how can state and federal laws in the United States make a difference? It's a tough question, and an important one. But, the answer is very simple.

How can we possibly ask citizens of China to reconsider their soup choices, if we are not willing to do the same thing here? California may consume only a tiny fraction of the world’s shark fins, but this isn’t just about raw numbers. This is about setting an example. This is about doing the right thing. And, this is about public perception, status symbols and deliberate displays of wealth. No one buys shark fin soup because of hunger. No. People buy shark fin soup because they can. Because of what they think it says about them, and their place in this world.

If California (and Hawaii, Oregon and Washington state) can help spread the idea that shark fin soup is not desirable, then the global impacts for sharks could be significant. And, in the meantime, if we can directly reduce shark fin soup consumption by about 5%? Well, that's pretty significant too -- especially since the world's shark populations have already been slashed by about 90%. When things are as dire as that, every single percentage point -- every single shark -- is significant. -- JL

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Experts

Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation