Why sharks and the soup?

By Kerry Stansfield

The Selangor Marine SIG has chosen to appeal to people to stop eating and ordering shark’s fin soup. But why sharks of all the fish in the ocean? And why ask people to stop consuming the soup?

Sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Unlike bony fish that produce thousands of eggs, sharks produce far fewer offspring. Their slow reproductive
rates mean they recover from fishing slowly, if at all. The Bigeye Thresher produces two offspring, while the Blue Shark produces an average of 135.

Sharks have long pregnancies, averaging 9-12 months, followed by a resting stage of 1-2 years, before they reproduce again. In addition, young sharks are slow to grow, and reach maturity late. For example, Lemon Sharks take 15 years to mature. Many are killed before reaching maturity. Many sharks are keystone species Remove the top predator from the food web and you risk upsetting the whole ecosystem.

Between 1970 and 2005, Bull, Dusky and Hammerhead sharks declined by more than 99 percent in the northwest Atlantic. With fewer sharks around, the species they prey upon, such as Cownose Rays, increased in numbers. Hordes of Cownose Rays dined on Bay Scallops and wiped the scallops out. These rays may turn next to the seagrass beds that are the nursery of many other species, such as shellfish, snappers and groupers. Not only is this a tragedy for biodiversity, but fisheries as well.

Sharks are also threatened, like many other species, by pollution, habitat degradation (particularly coastal breeding areas) and climate change. Increases in technology over the last few decades have made the capture of sharks much more efficient and has also led to increased accidental capture of sharks by fisheries targeting other species.

Some shark fisheries are illegal, unregulated and unreported, making the ideal of sustainable shark fisheries impossible. Sharks are often finned at sea, resulting in greater numbers of sharks being killed, as their fins do not take up much room in the hold. The landing of fins at the docks rather than the whole shark makes identification of the species virtually impossible, so recording and regulation of catch of each species is not possible.

Now, why ask people to stop eating shark’s fin soup? Well, the increased demand for shark’s fin has fuelled the increase in shark capture. Plus, the consumer currently has no way of knowing if the fins they are buying came from a sustainable fishing industry due to all the difficulties in regulating the fishing effort mentioned above. Therefore, reducing the demand is the simplest option at this time.

MYTH: Sharks are ferocious beasts that can take care of themselves.
TRUTH: Their slow growth, late maturation, lengthy pregnancies and small litters make sharks among the most biologically vulnerable animals in the oceans.