Commercial Shark Fishing

Around 100 million sharks a year are caught, many of them are finned as the meat is considered poor. The fins are commonly sold to the East especially China and Japan. 'Finning' involves cutting off the dorsal, pectoral and caudal fins with a sharp instrument and then (often) throwing the still living carcass back into the sea. Strangely this is commonly legal. Commercial shark fishing also occurs in the West notably America and Spain, while porbeagle sharks caught in England are sent to France. John and Sune Nightingale went to the Spanish fishing port of Vigo managing to capture photos and images documenting a catch of around 4000 sharks every day. Find out more. Although the Spanish do use shark meat most of the sharks caught were immature and the industry there is therefore unsustainable. Find out more about Finning Fishermen are turning to sharks because of the decline in other fish stocks and because demand has increased (the greater wealth of China means shark becomes more affordable). It is very likely that what happened to the cod will also happen to the shark. As sharks are fished out in the East shark fins are increasingly being exported from the west were there are as yet no real quotas. 27% of fins imported to Hong Kong now come from Europe. John and Sune Nightingale interviewed the plymouth M.A.F.F. representatives. Weight and species of fish caught are all routinely recorded, but when it comes to shark only the total weight is recorded with shark" written next to it. This is a very dangerous situation since there is no record of the numbers of any species of shark being caught, and it is therefore very difficult to prove a decline in numbers of any shark species.

Shark's-Fin Soup

Shark's-fin soup is like the caviar of the East. Chinese and Japanese people are the biggest consumers of sharks fin. It is served to impress business clients, for important family gatherings, etc. The fin is dried and then processed. This involves scraping and bleaching at the end of which all that is left is "fin-net". Fin-net is not cartialage, it is more elastic and looks a little like noodles. The fin-net is boiled with chicken or pork stock, mussels, and other ingredients to give it flavour. Prices vary according to fin size and quality. A small bowl of shark's-fin soup can cost around 30 (English). Ironically in many of the places where the sharks are caught the locals consider the meat poor and do not eat it. Often the bodies of whale sharks or manta rays are processed into fish scallops or tinned and sold very cheaply; it is the fin that is worth money. It is a widely held belief that by eating shark's-fin you can stop yourself getting cancer, which is why people will spend so much money on it. Shark cartialage pills are promoted as being healthy and helping to prevent cancer. If sharks were less prone to cancer than humans, it might be due to the fact that they don't drink, smoke, or work with asbestos. This resistance is presumably passed on to the consumer. Perhaps arctic explorers would do well to feed up on penguin meat before they leave since this might give them better resistance to low temperatures. But sharks do get cancer, indeed they even get cancer of the cartialage. Ironically it is very likely that a lot of shark meat is in fact toxic; being apex predators sharks quickly accumulate toxic compounds like DDT and PCB's. It is very possible that shark meat is as toxic as whale and dolphin meat in Japan.

Why is this a problem?

The fact that sharks are being killed in greater numbers poses more problems than the loss of species. Many sharks are the apex pedators; they come top in the food chain. They regulate fish populations and, by catching the weaker slower fish, help keep the populations they feed on healthy. If you take the apex predator out of a food chain it can cause amplified oscillations within the rest of the chain. By killing a few sharks you let a greater number of their prey survive and breed, which then eat a greater number of their prey, etc. What appears to be a minor change (removing the top link in the food chain) can have massive effects right down to the bottom of the chain. It's a little like a glass in the middle of a spinning record deck; if you nudge it just slightly it can start to rock, it will sway backwards and frowards until, eventually, it falls.

If you want to find out more about sharks and shark conservation issues check out the Shark Trust website.

Sune Nightingale