Sharks Off the Menu

Each year as many as 100 million sharks fall victim to finning – a brutal practice in which fishermen catch the fish, cut off its fins, and then throw the mutilated animal back in the sea to die. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in many parts of Asia, a special dish reserved for important occasions like weddings, and fishermen can sell the fins for up to $300 a pound. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a third of shark species globally are threatened by extinction, largely because of finning.

Countries around the world are responding to the threat by outlawing or discouraging the practice. From the US to Singapore to China – where NBA star Yao Ming has become an outspoken opponent of the practice – countries are trying to pull shark fin soup off the menu.

Europe: In June the European Union closed a regulatory loophole that allowed for European-flagged ships to remove shark fins as long as they were at sea. Under the new rules, no EU-registered vessels, no matter where they are fishing, will be allowed to cut the fins off of sharks.

United States: Cutting the fins off sharks has been illegal in US waters since 2000. But shark fins could still be imported, and shark fin soup remained on many restaurants’ menus. Since then, nine states and three US territories – including major markets such as Hawai‘i, California, and New York – have passed laws outlawing anything made with shark fins.

Central America: In 2012, all eight Central American countries, joined by the Dominican Republic, signed a treaty to outlaw shark finning. The agreement covers not just shark finning in the countries’ territorial waters, but also includes all vessels that fly the flags of the signatories. Fisherman can land sharks only if the fins are still attached.

China: China remains the world’s biggest market for shark fins. But government authorities there have tried to discourage the taste for shark fin soup. Last year officials announced that the dish would no longer be served at official banquets. The government’s campaign has shown signs of working: Shark fin imports into Hong Kong dropped 70 percent between 2011 and 2012.

Singapore: The city-state of Singapore, an enclave of Chinese culture, is also doing its part. In 2009 organizers of the annual Singapore Chefs’ Association meeting decided to remove the controversial dish from their menu.

Brunei: This summer the sultanate of Brunei on the island of Borneo became the first Asian country to implement a nationwide shark fin ban. Shark finning is now prohibited in the country’s waters, as is the sale and import of shark products.

Sources: Oceana, WildAid, IUCN, Shark Defenders, TreeHugger, The New York Times

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