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Shark Finning FAQ

What is shark finning? Are bans against shark fin soup racist?

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shark fins for sale

A plastic bin in a store in San Francisco's Chinatown displays shark fins for sale. The marked price is $238/lb.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
Updated October 08, 2011

What is shark finning?

Shark finning is the practice of cutting the fins off of a shark, who is usually alive, before throwing the shark back into the ocean. The fins are much more valuable than the rest of the shark, so the bodies are thrown back into the water to save cargo space on board. The sharks can be caught with longlines, trawls or nets, and can be either the targeted catch or the bycatch.

What are shark fins used for?

Shark fins are used to make shark fin soup, a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. A single bowl of shark fin soup can cost $100 or more.

How is shark finning cruel?

After being thrown back into the water, the finless shark dies a painful death of starvation, predation or suffocation because he cannot breathe if he cannot swim. Fish do feel pain, and sharks are no exception.

How many sharks are killed through finning each year?

Estimates are difficult, since finning is illegal in some countries and done in secret. Shark Trust estimates that the fins of as many as 73 million sharks are traded each year, while other estimates put the number at 100 million.

How does finning threaten shark populations?

Sharks are top level predators, and like other top level predators, they are relatively slow to mature and produce few offspring. Killing tens of millions of sharks every year means that shark populations will be slow to recover, and some may never recover. Some shark populations have suffered a 90% decline. Alice Waters, an American chef known for promoting healthy, sustainable food once said that she would want her last meal to be shark fin soup, but a year later, spoke up in support of Humane Society International's campaign against this unsustainable industry.

Are some sharks endangered?

Yes, some shark species are listed under CITES, an international treaty regulating trade in endangered and threatened species, such as the basking shark, great white shark and whale shark. However, environmentalists were disappointed that every proposal to protect additional shark species at the 2010 CITES conference was ultimately rejected. No sharks are listed under the Endangered Species Act, although several shark species are on the National Marine Fisheries Service's list of Species of Concern, which does not protect them under the ESA but funds management programs for those species.

Is shark finning illegal?

It varies, and bans on shark finning are not as effective as they could be. Shark finning is illegal in United States, the European Union, Taiwan and several other countries, but this just means that the sharks' bodies must be brought to port along with the fins. This hampers the ability of the fisheries to kill the maximum number of sharks, but doesn't stop the killing of sharks for shark fin soup. If the sharks' bodies are not useful for human consumption, they are sold for fertilizer or animal feed. Also, a ban on shark finning doesn't stop the importation of shark fins that may have been obtained through finning. Banning finning but allowing the importation and sale of shark fins allows this cruel trade to continue.

In October of 2011, California became the fourth state to ban the sale of shark fins, joining Hawaii, Washington and Oregon.

Are bans against shark fin soup racist?

Bans against shark finning or shark fin soup are not racist because they apply to everyone and do not target a particular group of people. However, Western campaigns against shark finning are sometimes racist or exhibit racist overtones and may attract followers because the campaign targets a minority group and another part of the world. When campaigning against shark fin soup or any kind of animal exploitation, be sure to target the exploitation without attacking the race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or class of the people involved. This type of rhetoric is about demonizing people who are viewed as "other" and has nothing to do with animal rights.

What is the solution to shark finning?

The most important thing is to not buy shark fins or shark fin soup. Spread awareness of the issue and support bans on the sale of shark fins. Some groups are also asking for boycotts of restaurants that serve shark fin soup.

Some believe that a solution is using the entire shark, and while this may seem less wasteful to environmentalists, it is not a solution from an animal rights perspective. Eating shark steaks and wearing shark skin shoes doesn't make shark fin soup acceptable because they all infringe on the shark's right to be free of human use and exploitation.

From an animal rights perspective, the solution must be veganism. There is no reason a shark should be treated differently from a trout, a chicken or a dog.

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