Respect for the Earth and All People (REAP) Newsletter
By: Ingrid Kuenzel
Since 1998 I’ve been a scuba diver and recreational marine photographer. I love aquatic life, exploring our oceans and learning about the variety of species that call our planet home. Sharks definitely fascinate me most. So much so that I spent my honeymoon with whale sharks and schooling hammerheads in the Galapagos Islands.
When many of my generation were terrified and emotionally scarred by Jaws, I looked past the Hollywood hype. Sharks are a necessary (and beautiful, in my opinion) creature that helps to balance the earth’s ecosystem. Like any other creature on our planet, we need to respect it and honour its important role.
For this reason I got involved with Shark Fin Free Calgary. Our mission is to help foster the sustainability of our oceans by ending the shark fin trade.
Sharks have existed for over 400 million years, survived five major extinctions and pre-date dinosaurs by 150 million years. As apex predators at the top of marine ecosystems, sharks control populations of marine life below them on the food chain, right down to tiny plants called Phytoplankton: the greatest consumer of carbon dioxide on our planet, providing more than half of the oxygen we breathe.
Every year over 73 million sharks are killed, mostly for shark fin soup. Many of these are finned, where the rest of the shark’s body is thrown back into the ocean, wasting over 95 percent of the animal. Overfishing has lead to the depletion of the world’s fish stocks by as much as 75 percent and the depletion of sharks by as much as 90 percent. Sharks have few young and can take decades to reach sexual maturity, making them susceptible to overfishing. Without critical steps towards conservation, sharks are facing extinction within our lifetime, which will have catastrophic effects on the oceans we depend on for survival.
Just what is shark finning? This is when a shark is caught, its fins are cut off and the body is thrown back into the sea, often while the shark is alive. Unable to swim the shark slowly sinks toward the bottom where it suffocates, bleeds out or is eaten alive by other fish.
Shark finning takes place at sea, so only the fins have to be transported back to land. Shark meat is considered low value and therefore not worth the cost of transporting the bulky shark bodies to market. Any shark is taken-regardless of age, size, or species. Longlines, used in shark finning operations, devastate shark populations worldwide. The lines contain tens of thousands of baited hooks killing marine life indiscriminately including non-targeted species such as turtles and albatrosses. Shark finning is widespread, largely unmanaged and unmonitored despite over 90 countries having bans or restrictions. Only a few countries demand that sharks arrive in port with fins attached.
Shark finning has increased dramatically over the past decade due to increasing consumer demand for shark fins – most commonly for shark fin soup. This is predominantly a result of strong growth in the Chinese economy and emergence of the Chinese middle class in the last 10-20 years. More people are able to afford this luxury dish that ranges from $10 to $200 per bowl. One pound of dried shark fin can retail for $300 or more. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that runs rampant with corruption.
Human Health Risks
Most sharks are piscivorous (predatory fish eating fish) and therefore accumulate very high levels of methyl-mercury and other toxins. Health Canada allows 1.00ppm mercury in testing of shark meat vs. 0.50ppm in the testing of most other fish we consume but issue a Consumption Advice. Health Canada reports that a single large dose of mercury can cause poisoning, leading to sterility, deafness, memory loss, nervous system issues and birth defects including blindness for those who consume it. Shark fin tissue samples taken off of the Atlantic coast have had up to 1.83-ppm of methylmercury, and up to 1.93-ppm on the Pacific coast (Sanchez, Magana, & Martinez, 2008).
SeaChoice Canada’s most comprehensive sustainable seafood program helps Canadians take an active role in supporting sustainable fisheries and aquaculture at all levels of the seafood supply chain, strongly advises to avoid eating shark, from all regions, at all times.
Shark Fin Free Calgary is working to ban the import, possession or sale of shark fins in Calgary and ultimately in Canada.
Over 90 countries have banned the practice of shark finning but NOT the import, possession or sale of fins, allowing the practice of finning to continue as long as the fins are brought back to port on a shipping vessel, not a fishing vessel.
Since 2009, Guam, Saipan, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon & California as well as the city of Brantford, Ontario, Canada have imposed bans on the sale, import and possession of shark fin and shark fin products.
Banning the import, sale and possession of shark fin and shark derivative products is essential as it is impossible to tell which fins are from sharks that were finned. Only when the buying stops will the killing stop too.
- Visit www.sharkfinfreecalgary.com to download and sign three petitions: (a) Calgary Bylaw ban, (b) Federal Ban, and (c) Canadian Federal fishing regulation change. (Paper petitions are politically more effective. Partial pages will be filled with additional signatures when possible. Feel free to print the same petition on both sides of one sheet of paper.) Mail the petitions to the post office box indicated by December 1, 2011, if possible. Petitions received after this date are still appreciated.
- Learn more. Click here to watch Chef Gordon Ramsay’s You Tube video on this subject.
- Visit www.wildaid.org, www.unitedconservationists.org, and/or www.sharksavers.org for the conservationists’ perspective.
- Spread the word in person, through email, on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and any other place you and your friends are gathering. Get your friends asking questions and ask them to sign the petition. If you’re really passionate about this issue, carry a petition with you and collect signatures as you talk to people.
- Contact your Alderman and voice your concerns.
- Buy a copy of the Canadian documentary, Sharkwater, for $10.00 from Shark Fin Free Calgary or United Conservationists and (a) watch it, (b) lend it to others, and/or (c) host a mini screening for family, friends, groups/associations you belong to. Ask anyone who watches the movie to also sign the petition.
- Do not buy food containing shark fin. Period.
- Volunteer to work with Shark Fin Free Calgary raising awareness on this important issue.
Note: the majority of the content in this article has been combined from the United Conservationists and Fin Free Toronto campaign websites.