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Without Sharks, There Would be No Shark Week

With estimated 100 million sharks killed every year, one third of open ocean sharks are threatened with extinction

When was the last time you saw a shark in the wild?  Few of us ever do. More frequently, we experience sharks from behind the safety of glass in an aquarium, or on television watching the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

Photo of SharkPhoto by Klaus Stiefel A tresher shark in Malapascua, Phillipines.

I have been diving with sharks for decades, and am always seeking opportunities to photograph and write about sharks, and to protect them in the wild. Increasingly, I’ve noticed that it is more and more difficult to find groups of wild sharks to dive with as they are overfished for fins and meat.

The increased scarcity of sharks can be traced in large part to the shark fin trade, which supplies the huge appetite for shark fin soup in Asia. Today, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year, many for their fins. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, one third of all open ocean sharks are threatened with extinction.

Shark finning is not only devastating shark populations. A comprehensive study indicates that declining shark numbers are setting off the collapse of ocean ecosystems as the loss of these apex predators disturbs the marine food web. 

The practice of shark finning is outlawed in US waters and approximately 100 other nations, but many countries, including Indonesia and Malaysia, still allow it. Other countries, such as Ecuador and Costa Rica, have shark fin bans on the books, but do not enforce these regulations.

In the United States, although shark finning itself is illegal, the trade in shark fins is not. The good news is that many states are now starting to pass shark fin trade bans, outlawing the possession, sale, trade and consumption of shark fins. So far, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Washington have passed these bans, as have the three US Pacific territories of Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Most recently, Texas became the tenth state to ban the commercial shark fin trade when Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 1579 into law. Texas is the first red state to prohibit the trade of shark fins. Shark Stewards, an Earth Island Institute project dedicated to reducing the shark fin trade and saving sharks, was instrumental in passing many of these bans, and is currently working to pass a trade ban in New Jersey as well.

Oceana, a nonprofit that campaigns to protect the world’s oceans, estimates that the shark fin trade in the US has declined by roughly 80 percent since states began enacting trade bans. However, the fight is far from over: A recent study suggests that although the shark fin trade is declining, sharks are still being heavily fished and populations of many large species have been dramatically reduced in the open ocean.

In addition to passing shark fin trade bans, shark advocates are turning their attention to airline carriers like the United Parcel Service, urging them to drop shark fins from their cargo manifest. So far, 29 air carriers including American and United Airlines  have agreed not to transport shark fins.

Much work is still needed to reduce shark fin consumption and overfishing of sharks in Asia. In Malaysia, Shark stewards has joined forces with the Sabah Shark Alliance to reduce shark overfishing and help dive and ecotour operators save their sharks, rays, and coral reef diversity through increased marine protections.  

Its great to be watching sharks during Shark Week, but its better to be protecting them in the wild. To take action to protect sharks, sign this petition urging the New Jersey legislature to ban the shark fin trade.

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