Global effort develops to save sharks

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Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., signed legislation Oct. 7 to ban the possession or sale of shark fins in California, which may save countless sharks, reported the Environmental News Service.

California is the fourth U.S. state to enact a ban on shark fins, said the report (the other three are Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington).

Brown said that shark finning - a process used primarily for food purposes - has caused a significant widespread decline in the shark population. "The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping them back in the ocean is not only cruel," Brown remarked, "but it harms the health of our oceans."

Shark finning is a process that is torturous to sharks; it involves the removal of the animal's fins, followed by the dumping of the shark carcass into the sea, mainly because fishermen don't want to have to transport the entire shark. Moreover, the shark is often still alive as it sinks, de-finned, to the bottom of the sea, where it will meet its death shortly afterward.

Shark fin soup, served at dinners and weddings typically in Chinese culture, is considered a source of good health. The soup is the main reason for shark finning, and despite the soup's apparent good reputation, studies show that, due to high levels of mercury, it is actually unhealthy, explained Shark Savers.

As such, activists in China are doing their own part to help the shark population. I Pledge, a grassroots campaign by Shark Savers, organizes people who formerly ate shark fin soup, encouraging them to inform their community about the reasons why this presents a danger to sharks everywhere. The effort has established billboards, a television public service announcement, and an online campaign.

Meanwhile, the Republic of the Marshall Islands is also joining the shark-saving coalition in its own way. Having established the world's largest shark sanctuary, the Nitijela (the Marshallese parliament) passed legislation last week that ends commercial shark fishing throughout the nation. And, like California, the law also bans the sale, trade, or possession of shark fins.

"In passing this bill, there is no greater statement we can make about the importance of sharks to our culture, environment, and economy," said Sen. Tony deBrum, an advocate of the legislation.

Matt Rand, director of shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group, commented, "We salute the Republic of the Marshall Islands for enacting the strongest legislation to protect sharks that we have ever seen.

"As leaders recognize the importance of healthy shark populations to our oceans, the momentum for protecting these animals continues to spread across the globe.

"The Marshall Islands have joined Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas, and Tokelau in delivering the gold standard of protection for ensuring shark survival. We look forward to helping other countries enlist in this cause."

While, in California, this ban will begin on January 1, 2012, there is a slight loophole; businesses that had shark fins before the ban went into effect can still sell those until July 1, 2013.

Nevertheless, Bill Wong, a member of the Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance (a group that gives a voice to Asian-Americans against shark finning), commented, "We applaud Gov. Brown for signing [this into law]. It puts California at the forefront of the global effort to save sharks led by a broad coalition of Asian Pacific Americans, conservationists, animal rights activists, commercial fishermen, business leaders, and artists. The passage of this bill may just be the tipping point that will preserve the shark species and the ocean ecosystem."

"Researchers estimate that some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent," concluded Brown. This portends "grave threats to our environment and commercial fishing. In the interest of future generations, I have signed this bill."

And as for working on changing the social opinion about shark fin soup, Sea Shepherd noted, "We must oppose the cultural practice of consuming [it], and we must discourage the consumption of sharks for cosmetics and trinkets. Most importantly, we must educate the general public that sharks are not the vicious, "cold-blooded" creatures many people believe they are.

"We need not peer into the dark depths of the sea to see the monstrous creatures that maim and kill by the millions," the report concluded. "We need only look into a mirror."

Photo: A shark fin fishing boat off the coast of Ecuador. Paul Stein/Wikipedia


 

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