The Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act of 2017 was attacked by fisheries spokesmen in a political opinion paper entitled, “A United States shark fin ban would undermine sustainable shark fisheries.” A new study, by shark ethologist Ila France Porcher, Dr. Brian W. Darvell of the University of Birmingham, and Professor Gilles Cuny, of the University of Lyon, demonstrates that the figures used in support of this claim were selectively chosen and misrepresented to support a pro-shark-fishing argument.
The authors of the original paper, David Shiffman, of Simon Fraser University, and Robert Hueter, of Mote Laboratories, claimed that the United States is a small contributor to the shark fin trade. They stated that the Act was “misguided”, and argued that the United States of America should continue to participate in the shark fin trade, and that American shark fishermen should continue to profit from it, promoting the idea that banning the shark fin trade in America would be “bad for sharks.”
United States heavily involved in the shark fin trade
In stark contrast, the new analysis demonstrates that the USA is a major player in the shark fin trade, importing several hundred tonnes of shark fins per year, and that imports continue to rise, in spite of the bans in such major centres as California and New York. The USA is the seventh largest shark-fishing nation in the world and obfuscates its trade by recording much of its imports and exports simply as “meat” instead of as shark fins.
The paper in question sought to cast doubt on the idea that the shark fin trade is responsible for the catastrophic loss of sharks that has occurred in all oceans. However, just the documented shark fin trade shows that actually four times the number of sharks have died than have been reported by fisheries. Therefore, since only part of the fin trade is actually documented, the true numbers of sharks that are dying are not known, and evidently far higher than fisheries records.
Only one third of shark species are considered safe, and the most threatened are those accessible to fisheries—those within approximately 3500 feet of the ocean’s surface. Fisheries' management has failed this line of animals.
In spite of efforts to manage its own fisheries responsibly, the United States is thus implicated in a planet-wide disaster, which is why The Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act was put forward.
A global catastrophe
The pro-shark fishing paper argued that sharks being targeted for meat represents a new and different threat. However, the new study shows how the high value of shark fins has in fact been driving and inflating the market for shark meat simply in order to profit from the fins; the paper in question is, itself, an illustration of this phenomenon. More than eighty percent of fisheries are in trouble because of over-fishing, and turning to sharks for meat is a serious ecological danger sign. Globally, the tendency towards less discarding of the shark’s body has not lessened mortality, which was the optimistic intent of fins-attached regulations.
The problem with CITES listings
The paper in question dismisses shark depletion by stating that those in trouble are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). However, CITES listings are opposed by shark-hunting nations, and protection must be gained for one species at a time, while the shark fin market demands fins from all species. Since it is difficult to determine the species from which a fin has been taken once separated from the shark, enforcement is weak and once gained, the only protection granted by a CITES listing is the need for a “Non-detrimental” finding before the fins can be exported. The convention is for international trade only; it does not provide protection from being fished in the first place.
Shark fisheries cannot be sustainable
The paper in question claimed success for sustainable shark fisheries and implied that these are in place around the world. In contrast, the new analysis shows that no shark fishery supplying the shark fin trade is sustainable. It describes why the so-called sustainable shark fisheries in the United States are unlikely to be sustainable in the long term, either, even if it is claimed that they are, now.
Shark numbers are down to around ten percent of 1950's levels. The removal of large predators from the top of the food chain can cause entire ecosystems to collapse, and with the human population expanding so quickly, the pressure on sharks can only continue to grow. No animals can withstand targeted, industrial fishing, and therefore, the authors of the new study find that no commercial shark fishery can prove sustainable long term. They recommend an international ban on commerce in sharks and their parts, which is the protection granted to sea turtles.
Importance of The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act
The way that one recipe for soup, in just one of the world’s cultures, has had such a serious effect on the status of wild predators as important as sharks, says a lot about humanity's priorities. The goal, now, should be that there is no market for shark fins whatsoever.
The new study removes any doubt about the importance and relevance of the current version of the Act, The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2019 (HR 737). It has a sound evidence base to support its provisions being made law.
(c) Ila France Porcher, Dr. Brian W. Darvell, Professor Giles Cuny