Commentary by Gary Stokes

 

A freshly finned shark in MalaysiaA freshly finned shark in MalaysiaLiving in Hong Kong, I’ve been dealing with the shark fin issue for as long as I can remember, long before joining Sea Shepherd. I’ve walked through blood-soaked markets and clambered over rickety rooftops around South East Asia in a quest to uncover, expose and better understand the evil trade. Hong Kong is at the epicenter of the global trade in shark fins and many other “delicacies of the sea.”

A comment I’m hearing more and more often nowadays on social media forums from ignorant and racist people is, “Those bloody Japanese/Chinese are killing the oceans. There’ll be nothing left for future generations!” Well this certainly isn’t the case - we are ALL killing the oceans, and sadly we’re doing a pretty good job of it. We just find it convenient to point the finger and blame towards someone else so that we can sleep at night. It’s time to look in the mirror and take a long good look at what we are doing, and then formulate an immediate global action plan to get us out of this mess.

Over the years I’ve felt frustrated and helpless at times, sometimes even questioning why I bother, as nothing I could ever do will change the way 1.2 billion people across the border think. But that’s the point we are all missing. Before we start trying to change other people, we need to change ourselves first. We are all guilty parties when it comes to the diminishment of life in our oceans, whether it’s overfishing to feed ourselves or livestock, plastic pollution or other pollutants, or the targeting of a specific species for luxury dishes.

Last week I visited one of the many dried markets in Guangzhou with several conservation-minded Chinese friends. After experiencing in Hong Kong the many dried seafood shops of Sheung Wan, the thousands of fins drying in the street and the fins on the roof, I’ve realized that I’ve become desensitized to the slaughter of sharks on an industrial scale. Walking around the markets of Guangzhou was nothing new really, just on a bigger level. I would guesstimate we saw approximately 2 million shark fins that morning, but it’s all extra zeros, and after a while, they too become irrelevantly numb.

The one question it did raise with me, though, was this;

“WHERE DO THEY ALL COME FROM?”

Returning to Hong Kong, I started investigating who the biggest exporters to Hong Kong/China were. According to a report put out by the NGO OCEANA in 2010 on shark fin imports to Hong Kong/China in 2008, the following countries are the top ten culprits. There are a few surprises here.

Rank Country KG
1 Spain 2,646,442 kg
2 Singapore 1,201,236 kg
3 Taiwan 990,664 kg
4 Indonesia 681,012 kg
5 United Arab Emirates 511,197 kg
6 Costa Rica 327,385 kg
7 USA 251,310 kg
8 Yemen 226,738 kg
9 Mexico 216,833 kg
10 Brazil 200,732 kg

Three out of the top ten exporters of shark fins to Hong Kong/China are from Asian countries? Spain and the USA were surprising as many of the racially oriented comments I have seen online have been from the US and Europe.

This is when the hypocrisy dawned on me. The fishing fleets and corporations of the world empty the ocean of sharks, sell the fins to some Chinese businessmen, and then we all blame China as a nation for the impending extinction of sharks globally?

The WildAid statement of “when the buying stops, the killing can too” is very powerful, as is the impact that WildAid is having globally. However if our governments are really in control of our natural resources, surely “if the supply stops, the buying will too” should also have a massive effect. If you don’t like what someone else is doing, simply cut them off. Don’t keep supplying them and taking their money and then criticize them; that’s just plain hypocritical and it reeks of corporate greed and personal interest. It’s just a simple basis of Supply & Demand. Lose one or the other and it’s game over; affect either and you’ll see drastic reductions.

Shark fins drying in the streets of Hong KongShark fins drying in the streets of Hong KongThe Demand

The demand for shark fin soup has certainly been reduced over the past few years, as it’s no longer cool to have “Shark Fin Soup” on the menu of your wedding banquet or business function. The work of so many NGOs, celebrities and individuals around the world (as well as some brave politicians and business leaders) has thrust this issue into the spotlight, raising awareness and educating the public on what we are doing to shark populations globally. Hotels have been removing it from their menus across the globe. The biggest single blow that was dealt was when the Chinese Government introduced austerity cuts, which banned shark fin and other luxury items from all state functions. We have heard from mainland traders that this has reduced their sales by up to 70% in some cases.

The Supply

Less has been done with the supply; however, there have been some groundbreaking achievements. After heavy campaigning, many of the leading airlines have refused to carry shark fins as cargo, as well as some of the leading shipping lines. New laws put in place in some nations have criminalized the landing of fins, hampering the established trade routes and generally making it harder and more costly to ship. The increasing awareness to Trans-national Wildlife Crime will also play a role in reducing the supply. Add to this the addition of 5 more shark species to the CITES Appendix II listings for protection.

If countries stop selling the shark fins to China, then you’ll in effect shut down the shark fin industry, as China does not have access to substantial stocks of its own shark fins. This is a GLOBAL issue, not a Chinese issue. Sea Shepherd is calling on everyone to take action in your own country to cease all fishing or shipments of sharks.

Also, please be aware that the shark crisis is far bigger than just shark finning!

Almost as many sharks are killed annually for cartilage pills (Chondroitin Sulphate) or liver oil tablets as are for shark fin soup, and these are consumed largely in western nations. Check your family’s medicine cabinets for health supplement pills for joint-relief with shark-derived ingredients. Seek out plant-based alternatives that are readily available and have the same desired effects.

When YOUR country no longer contributes to the international trade of shark fins, then and only then can you start pointing the finger at another country. So start working on getting your governments to enact new laws to protect sharks locally, and together we can all put a global stop to the shark fin industry.

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