In 2009, when Palau announced they were creating the first ever “shark sanctuary” – permanently closing their waters to all shark fishing – they set an example for the world. Palau stood up for sharks – many of which (thirty percent) are threatened with extinction. Since then, several other countries (Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas, Marshall Islands, Tokelau, and Federated States of Micronesia) have established “shark sanctuaries” too.
And a couple weeks ago, came a major breakthrough in the global fight to save sharks. The European Union (made up of 27 countries) voted to ban shark finning in all European waters and on all European vessels fishing in waters around the globe. European fishermen will now be required to land all sharks with their fins attached – joining the U.S., Central American, and Taiwan in having “fin attached” laws. This is a major victory for sharks! Especially, since the European Union is one of the largest shark fin suppliers to the Asian market!
If you’re wondering what’s the connection between shark fins and Asia, wonder no more; sharks are primarily fished for their fins, which get a high price for their use in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. Fishermen will slice off the shark’s fins and discard the rest of their body back to sea – this practice, known as ‘shark finning’, is both cruel and wasteful. And it results in the death of tens of millions of sharks every year!
As top predators in the sea, sharks play a vital role in ocean ecosystems. But for decades, industrial fisheries have been depleting shark populations. The countries mentioned above, along with many conservation groups, have been working to change to this. As Palau’s President Toribiong said, “the need to save sharks and our environment far outweighs the need to enjoy a bowl of soup.” But in the majority of countries, shark finning has continued to remain legal.
Blue Ocean Institute will be teaming up with shark expert Dr. Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University in New York, and his wife, fisheries expert Deborah Abercrombie. Demian and Debbie will be Blue Ocean Fellows and will work with us to strengthen and promote shark conservation in 2013.
Elizabeth Brown is a research scientist at Blue Ocean Institute.