Shark Finning Puts Hammerhead Sharks, and Many Other Shark Species, In Peril

“Shark!”  Thanks to Hollywood, the name of this magnificent animal has become synonymous with danger and fear. (I bet you hear the music of Jaws right now!) Seen as a mindless killing machine, sharks are the ocean’s wolf or grizzly bear—misunderstood and maligned in the public’s eye.

Yes, sharks are predators. But that is why they are so important. At the top of the food chain, sharks keep the oceans in balance. Without them, the entire marine ecosystem could collapse. Not only is that bad for oceans, it is bad for us.

Shark finning is a gruesome practice. It often involves catching sharks, cutting off their fins and tails usually while they are still alive, and throwing them back in the water. Unable to swim, the shark bleeds to death or drowns.  By just harvesting the fins, which take up less space on a boat than the rest of the low-value shark carcass, fishermen are able to stay out much longer and pull in many more sharks.

Mighty hammerheads, and many other types of sharks, have been decimated and graceful oceanic whitetips have almost disappeared – nearly a third of all shark species face extinction.

Pile of Shark Fins on Taiwan DockOverfishing of sharks continues today at unsustainable levels. Mighty hammerheads, and many other types of sharks, have been decimated and graceful oceanic whitetips have almost disappeared – nearly a third of all shark species face extinction. The reason? The demand for shark fins drives an industry, causing nearly 73 million sharks to be killed every year, predominately for use in shark fin soup. At around $400 a pound it’s a very lucrative business.

A review conducted by TRAFFIC and The Pew Environment Group reports that the U.S. ranks as one of the top 10 shark catchers in the world. Finning is illegal here, but enforcement is practically impossible, just like it is in the other 60 countries where it has been banned. Plus, the demand for shark fin soup continues to drive the fin market, particularly in states like California. Fins are processed in and imported from Asia, making it impossible to track where the fins originated or whether they came from a protected species.

Two lawmakers from California have recognized the weaknesses in enforcing shark finning laws and the threat of the shark fin trade towards the survival of sharks worldwide. OnValentine’s Day, California Assembly members Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) introduced Assembly Bill 376 that would ensure that California ceases to be both a major supplier and consumer of shark fins through a ban on the possession, sale, trade and distribution of fins. The bill is similar to one passed in Hawaii last year and it is hoped the impact on the demand for fins will hopefully decrease the practice of finning and protect sharks.

The U.S. is poised to take an important step towards the worldwide conservation of sharks. Will others follow California and Hawaii’s lead?

What Defenders is Doing

Along with a coalition of thirteen other organizations, Defenders is supporting the California bill to stop the trade of fins and stop the slaughter of protect sharks.  In 2007 we worked to see shark finning banned in Mexico and we have fought for shark conservation for years through the regulation of fisheries and the international trade in shark fins and other products.

Learn more about sharks on our fact sheet.

Read more about the shark finning issue in the Defenders magazine article Throwing Sharks a Lifeline.