4 Lame Excuses for Shark Finning and Why it Must End

Posted by Casson in 4 Oceans |

This installment of my monthly Alternet column, “4 Oceans,” was originally published on June 2, 2011.

From bad...

A powerful conservation movement is afoot in the United States. Shark finning — the practice of catching sharks, slicing their fins off, and then dumping the animals overboard (often still alive and slowly bleeding to death) — is being exposed for the monstrosity it is. Globally, we slaughter tens of millions of sharks each year. And for the most part, we do it for the fins, which can fetch hundreds of dollars a pound.

This is insanity. We need sharks in our oceans. Without sharks and other top-level carnivores to keep populations of sub-predators in check, we run the risk of losing productive and well-balanced marine ecosystems to trophic collapse. Thankfully, some communities are finally saying no to shark finning. Hawaii banned the possession and sale of shark fins in 2010. Washington State signed a similar prohibition into law on May 12 of this year, and in California, a ban on trafficking in shark fins is working its way through the legislature.

It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of such a law passing in California. More shark fins are sold and consumed in the Golden State than in any of the other 49. If we can manage to protect these unique animals under California state law, we may not be far from a nationwide moratorium on this staggeringly unsustainable practice.

Here are several common arguments being used to defend this practice, followed by my thoughts on why they’re unsound.

1: Shark fin consumption is a cultural practice and tradition.

Some cultures have a history of consuming shark fin. I am not in any place to pass judgment on these cultures, and I don’t want to. All I want to say is that culture is not the unchanging monolith that some make it out to be.

... to worse...

Culture is a dynamic representation of both the history and the current state of a particular group, be it based around attitudes, ideals, goals, shared experiences, or other connective forces. A culture is not a static thing — it changes with the times. Over the centuries, many cultural practices have ended in favor of the evolving wisdom and consciousness of the human race. For example, while I may not be part of a culture that has historically practiced shark finning, I am a member of a culture that has historically practiced slavery.

I am a Caucasian American and a direct descendant of slave-owning ancestors who believed in the inferiority of human beings with a darker skin color than their own. I even have relatives who died while shooting at the Union army to protect this cultural practice (among other things, of course). Slavery was a common practice in North America for centuries. It was part of our culture. It was also wrong. And, thankfully, it ended.

Human beings evolve. Our cultures evolve. As we learn more about our planet and ourselves, we gain the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. We now know far too much about humanity’s dependence on Earth’s environment to keep slaughtering sharks for their fins. The tragedy of shark finning is more than just sharks dying for shortsighted profit — it’s that today, when we have learned so much about sharks and their irreplaceable roles in our oceans, we continue to mindlessly slaughter them in the name of “culture.”

2: Shark fin is good for your health.

Some schools of Eastern medicine equate shark fin consumption with heightened energy and virility. I am certainly no nutritionist, and will not attempt to dispute this belief. That said, it’s a proven fact that a typical bowl of shark fin soup is in actuality quite devoid of most vitamins when compared to, say, a similar serving of vegetable soup. Shark fin does have some nutritional value — especially some key elements like iron and zinc — but it’s nothing one couldn’t get from any number of other foods. To kill a shark for such a meager nutritional reward is a terrible bargain for the planet at large.

3: Sharks are dangerous! They eat people!

Certain works of art, literature and film have such a profound impact on society that they literally shape our culture. Jaws was one of those films. It terrified an entire generation and set shark conservation efforts back 20 years.

... to even worse.

Jaws was also one of the most inaccurate and unfair films ever made when it comes to portraying actual shark behavior. The film that made us all afraid to go back in the water had virtually zero basis in reality, yet it engendered a phobia of sharks that has afflicted us for decades. The problem is so acute, in fact, that Peter Benchley, the creator of Jaws, had a massive crisis of conscience and dedicated much of his later life to ocean conservation and shark protection efforts.

Globally, shark encounters with humans account for about 10 deaths a year, give or take a handful. By contrast, lightning strikes kill over 20,000 people each year. Dog bites, pig attacks, and even fugu blowfish (due to improper preparation) cause more human fatalities annually than sharks. Sharks are not the mindless killing machines that we once feared they were. The contribution sharks make to a healthy ocean vastly outweighs their danger to the human race.

4: We can fin sharks in a sustainable manner.

Really? Can we? I personally doubt that very much. We understand very little about most species of sharks, and it is extremely difficult to properly manage a fishery when we lack such key information as growth rate, migration patterns, and reproductive behavior.

It's not worth it.

That, however, is not even the main issue. Sustainability goes beyond choosing which species are acceptable to consume and which aren’t. One of the core issues here is respect for the animal — which, in this case, is manifest in how we are using it for our own purposes. How can we have a sustainable fishery that involves cutting off the fins of a living creature and dumping the rest? This kind of waste and disrespect has no place in a modern food system that is based on ecosystem awareness and sound resource management. To look at this in simple economic terms: If a given shark weighs, say, 150 pounds, the fins might be 10 pounds of that. So to cut off the fins and dump the rest is equivalent to a retention rate of 1:14 — one pound of catch, 14 pounds of waste.

The very act of shark finning flies directly in the face of sustainable living. We need to outgrow this practice and embrace a positive relationship with sharks. For those of you residing in California, please contact your state representative as soon as possible and urge her/him to support AB 376. An ocean without sharks just won’t work.

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Bill Kruczynski
Jul 21, 2011 at 8:16 am

I am writing to ask permission to use the photograph of shark fins on a dock in a publication titled “Tropical Connections: South Florida’s Marine Environment.” The page title where the photograph would be placed is titled “Sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.” The book will be published by IAN Press, University of Maryland and is a joint U.S. EPA and Florida Sea Grant publication.
Thank you for consideration of this request.
If granted, please attach a high resolution image to an email addressed to me and supply me with the photo credit that will be used in the book.

Aug 3, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I never heard of such a thing!! I think anyone who cuts a shark fin off ( or any animal for that matter) and releases the animal live (or dead) should have there arms cut off and dropped into the water alive as well. I can understand if the purpose were using the whole shark as food, and not wanting to waste any part of the animal. But to just cut off a limb for the fun of it and release the animal is a disgusting display of how atrocius humans really are. Un-friggin’-beleivable!!! God certaintly made a mistake creating a people who would do such a thing. Yes, sharks can be dangerous, but that is the way they were MADE. They do not have the means to know right from wrong, UNLIKE HUMANS who were created and taught with that particular ability. There is no excuse for being cruel to a lesser being. Humans have the ability and knowledge to help animals, we should not be destroying them. Higher up on the Food chain reasons-ok-but don’t make a waste of the life you took. Use every part of the animal wisely.
Reminds me of the idea of the whole world ending in 2012. Doing things like this to lesser creatures only makes us worthy to be wiped off the face off the Earth, at least we won’t be able to cause any more harm!
WHO gave us the right to decide who rules who, and who can take what life and at what cost…Oh Yeah, i forgot…DISGUSTING HUMANS!!!

Audri Knight
Nov 27, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I love sharks and the ways they help balance the aquatic ecosystem. finning sharks may be a tradition but that DOES NOT make it ok. there are other ways to stay healthy, exersize, eat other things, not sharks. As far as the dangerous thing goes over 90% of shark attacks are completly accidental. if you were at the bottom of the ocean and the sun was shining on the top of the water while something on a surfboard that looks like a seal or your normal meal you would try to eat it to. when a shark goes to bite, a what you could call eyelid, covers the eye so it cant see.

Jan 26, 2012 at 9:24 am

Um shark fining is absolutly the worse thing you could do. As some people know it is illegal in the U.S.A. So help save shark fining.

Mar 19, 2012 at 10:59 am

I really don’t get it. I know its all about money. You would think they could sell the shark meat for food at least. It really is a disgusting waste to cut off the fins and throw the animal back in the ocean to die. There are almost zero regulations in international waters and the few that there are go unenforced. American fisherman have it the hardest and follow fishing regulations closer to anyone in the world. It makes it very difficult for these guys to make a living fishing trans-Atlantic fish like the Tuna. By the time the Tuna come back to the east coast they have already been decimated by poachers world wide.

Jesse Sanders
Sep 27, 2012 at 9:18 am

It’s been my lifetime goal to go out in the pacific and fish for helpless sharks. The rest of my family has made plenty of fortune off of the fins and they dont plan on stopping, neither do I. please respect my goals and hobbies.

Sep 27, 2012 at 11:30 am

@Jesse —

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’re joking. It’s almost hard to tell, to be honest — you wouldn’t believe some of the comments I’ve heard from people about this topic that are nearly the same as yours but made in all seriousness.

Anyhow, thanks for reading!

Oct 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm

this is not tolerated. i cnt sit here and see people take the sharks life away . they r some sick people and who ever kills sharj should be murdered because if the shark didnt do nuthin to you them leave it alone……. seriously ALONE!!!!!!!

David Sanford
Dec 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I really enjoyed reading your article as the tone and message is spot one. I am just created a new site http://www.divers-act-now.com and a facebook community with the same name and would like to use the top photograph of a hand holding the shark fin as my main logo. Please reply with your approval or not.
Thank you and keep up your great work.

Jan 8, 2013 at 5:02 am

“Mutilation (while alive) is an abomination,” – Prophet Muhammed, peace and blessings be upon him. The Prophet cursed the one who tortured, cut off a part of any living animal/creature.



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