Every year, approximately 75 million sharks are killed for their fins. The process is cruel, with the sharks fins being cut off while it is still alive, before the living shark is thrown back into the water to suffer and die.
As unfortunate as this is for the shark, it is even more unfortunate for the oceans. Sharks are an apex predator, and shape the marine habitats with their presence alone. Sharks force animals to move around to avoid getting detected.
This small change can be the difference between prey animals completely destroying a habitat from over consuming it to a balanced ecosystem. Without sharks, parrot fish would eat every last speck of coral in a reef, and sea turtles would completely ruin sea grass meadows.
Panama brought forward the proposal to regulate shark fins at the 186-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This important event helps organize international agreements regarding the trade of plants and animals found in the wild.
Although the agreement was not completely unanimous at first, eventually everyone agreed to protect nearly all shark species commonly caught for the purposes of finning.
The Future of Sharks
Although these new protections are a great step, it remains to be seen whether they will work. It’s possible these new protections could backfire, with fins being sent to the blackmarket instead. With the higher prices on the black market, it’s possible finning may become more lucrative rather than discouraged.
In the past, shark finning bans have had mixed results. An EU ban was ineffective, but was blamed on the method of enforcing the ban. In other areas, a ban in one area simply caused finning to be shifted to another area.
Hopefully, the CITES meeting also worked out a plan on how to enforce this ban so that sharks are finally protected the way they deserve to be.