Sharks are not man-eaters. The majority of incidents involving humans and sharks tend to be cases of misidentification; sharks may mistake a human swimmer or diver for a similarly sized or shaped prey.
On the contrary, humans actively hunt sharks for food. So much so that over 70 million of these majestic animals are killed annually to satisfy our hunger for shark’s fin. This is especially so in Asia where shark’s fin is deemed a luxurious delicacy.
In May this year, a report released by wildlife trade monitoring group, TRAFFIC, revealed that Singapore is the world’s second largest trader for shark’s fin in terms of value. In 2016 alone, our country imported about USD1.4million and exported about USD4 million worth of shark’s fin.
In response to this report, Mr Yio Jin Xian from the Marine and Land Products Association (MPA), which represents shark’s fin traders supplying 70% of the market in Singapore, claimed that most shark products in Singapore are “sustainable”.
He added that the fins are from sharks processed in First World countries with fisheries that are regulated and have restrictions on the amount fished each year. These countries also require the sharks to be fully used, which means the fishermen do not cut the fins off and throw the dead sharks back in the sea.
Shortly after, World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) debunked Mr Yio’s statement:
FACT: Singapore’s shark’s fin traders at the MPA claim that most of our shark’s fins are from developed countries such as the USA, EU nations and Australia. Current import data contradicts these claims completely. In addition, there is no traceability system in place anywhere in the world that can adequately track individual shark’s fins from source to seller.
FACT: Only one shark fishery in the world has been certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – for spiny dogfish in the US. In this fishery, the shark species is mainly caught for its meat, with fins being a low-value by-product.
FACT: Several things go into determining what is sustainable: healthy populations of a species, management measures to prevent overfishing and the impact of fishing on the environment.
Clearly, there are no sustainable sources of shark’s fin. And the dwindling number of sharks in the ocean is severely affecting the marine ecosystem. Being apex predators, sharks keep the numbers of other predators in check. For example, Great White Sharks in South Africa hunt Cape Fur Seals, which in turn prevents overpopulation of the seals and shortage of fish. At the same time, sharks take a long time to reach sexual maturity (up to 10 years or more). As such, their risk of extinction is higher than most other vertebrate species.
On a positive note, the local dining culture is changing. A study by WWF-Singapore in 2016 found that 82% of Singaporeans had not consumed shark’s fin for at least a year due to shark protection (53%) and environmental reasons (44%).
While this is good news, we still have a long way to go in terms of reducing global demand for shark’s fin. So in case you’re wondering how to politely reject a bowl of shark’s fin soup at dinners and events, here’s some sound advice from Jonn Lu, campaign leader of I’m FINished with FINS.
Decline it (the soup) and keep quiet. Before long, someone will ask you why you’re not eating the soup. That’s when you share. Don’t preach, don’t shame. Share what you know. Educate and be patient. It took my father five years to get it. But he finally got it.