I was very interested to see this article on the Guardian website, highlighting the threat to sharks from tuna fishing. Basically, enormous numbers of sharks are being killed as ‘bycatch’ in the course of tuna fishing in Indonesia. Their valuable fins are sold onto the Chinese market, according to the article, while their meat is eaten locally:
“The shark are technically bycatch, but they’d be more accurately described as valuable byproduct. And the sheer numbers being caught are shocking. Even more alarming is the fact that all three of the shark species mentioned above are on the IUCN’s red list of endangered species.”
I have wondered for some time how many sharks were killed as bycatch, because it throws an interesting light on the campaign against eating shark’s fins: i.e. that it’s not just the Chinese appetite for fins that is jeopardising shark species, but destructive fishing practices in general. However, when I interviewed an expert from a major environmental organisation about the fin trade, he seemed reluctant to discuss it. I wondered at the time if this was because any evidence of large numbers of sharks being killed as bycatch might detract from the black-and-white clarity of the campaign against the Chinese fin trade…
So, as I’ve said before, it’s not just the Chinese who are eating the world to extinction – most of us are just as bad. And while the custom of eating shark fins is conspicuously destructive and therefore an easy target for moral indignation, we also need to look broadly at the damaging consequences of the modern Western diet.
Meanwhile, on a happier note, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has blacklisted trade in five species of sharks, and manta rays. And, as the Guardian article mentions, there does seem to be evidence that eating shark’s fin is on the decline in China. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from countless people in the Chinese hospitality business that expensive dining-out has been hit hard by President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, and that demand for luxurious delicacies is waning for this reason.