There is a general misconception about sharks, being viewed by many people as man-eating beasts of the sea. As such, the public is not generally very sympathetic about the plight of several shark species as a result of illegal fishing practices.
Sharks are generally sought after for their fins, with estimates indicating that around 30 – 80,000,000 sharks are killed on an annual basis – which means that by the time you have finished reading this paragraph, 190 sharks have already been illegally slaughtered. Conservations have estimated that many shark species will become extinct in 10 years’ time if shark finning is not banned, or at least regulated. Finning is a global issue, with Hong Kong being the hub for shark fin trading. However, one should not rush to place the blame on a singular country, seeing as 27% of shark fins originate from European sources. It should also be mentioned shark finning is one of the most inhumane practices in the world, in which the fishermen remove the fins from the shark and throw it overboard, still breathing, to die a slow painful death or be eaten alive by other fish.
This issue is not simply an issue pertaining to the decimation of a species, but it also involves a resonating impact on marine ecosystems. Sharks are generally apex predators in most ecosystems, keeping populations of smaller fish in check. Removing sharks from the food chain is equivalent to the removal of a keystone from an arched bridge – an eventual collapse of a complex and delicate structure.
The only way how shark finning can be curbed is by supporting initiatives that lead to governmental policy changes. Such was the result achieved on the 20th of February 2013, when the Raja Ampat government officially announced that is declared its entire 4 million hectares of coastal and marine waters as a shark sanctuary. This title stipulates that sharks cannot be fishing in these waters; but the conservation area also protect other sensitive species such as manta rays, marine mammals, sea turtles and certain ornamental fish.
This bold move by Indonesian governments is significantly important, since the vast majority of shark fins are exported from Indonesia. It is believed that this shift in ideology is a result of the careful assessment of the worth of living sharks over dead ones, the former which benefit greatly towards growing Indonesian ecotourism ventures such as shark diving.
This news is very exciting, and will hopefully result in a domino effect in which other governments follow suit! This is highly desired, especially when you find out that shark fins are generally harvested for shark fin soup – a traditional Chinese delicacy that only uses the tasteless shark fins in a chicken broth to absorb the taste! Seriously, this global ‘sharkicide’ is occurring so that shark fins can become a chicken flavoured component of a soup!
More info at: http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/03/07/indonesias-first-shark-sanctuary-raja-ampat-leads-the-way/