Nothing Wrong with Sharkfin?

This article appeared in the main newspaper in Singapore. The author, Dr. Giam Choo Hoo is well known in conservation circles as a proponent of wildlife consumption.

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The Straits Times 1 Dec 06
Shark Finning: Shark's fin soup-eat without guilt
By Giam Choo Hoo, For The Straits Times

REPORTS which attribute shark decimation to the consumption of shark's fin
soup show that Western activists have succeeded in convincing the public
that sharks are killed for their fins only, and that all fins are cruelly
cut off while the sharks are still alive.

They paint a distorted picture. There is no reason to be ashamed when
ordering the popular soup at a restaurant.

Sharks are caught in virtually all parts of the world - by fishermen in
poor countries and by large fishing fleets from developed countries. No
state has banned shark fishing and only a few have set limits in certain
areas. Indeed, some members of the European Union are catching, consuming
and trading sharks on a big scale.

The Shark Alliance points out that 'Spain, Portugal, the UK and France are
among the world's top 20 shark-fishing nations that are responsible for 80
per cent of the global catch'.

Despite the strongly declared objectives of the Fisheries Commission in
Brussels, there are very few restrictions on fishing for sharks in
European waters.

The meat of dogfishes, smoothhounds, catsharks, skates and rays is in high
demand by European consumers. The situation in Canada and the United
States is similar: The blue shark is sought after as a sport fish while
the porbeagle, mako and spiny dogfish are part of the commercial fishery.
Other species are caught, either targeted or as by-catch that is
unintentional or incidental, during fishing operations.

It is a serious problem in most European countries. Fishing fleets
targeting tuna and swordfish take substantial numbers of high-sea sharks .
Nonetheless, sharks are not as endangered as other wildlife, for example,
the sturgeon, which is sought after for caviar.

There are over 400 species of sharks, and to claim they are on the verge
of extinction is to make a sweeping but inaccurate generalisation
equivalent to claiming that all birds are endangered.

The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife
Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists only three sharks in its Appendix II. The
consumption and trade of species in this category is subject to
certification. The three are the basking shark, the great white shark and
the whale shark.

The remaining 397 shark species are not classified at all and can be
freely traded and caught.

Fins are by-products of the fishing industry. Though they are valuable,
sharks are not normally killed for their fins. A fishing fleet
specialising in catching sharks only for their fins would quickly go out
of business.

The perception that it is common practice to kill sharks for only their
fins - and to cut them off whilst the sharks are still alive - is wrong.
No one denies that such cruelty exists. The footage of 'live-finning' has
been shown all over the world.

However, these sensational pictures obscure the fact that many within the
industry are against such practices. The vast majority of fins in the
market are taken from sharks after their death. This is the preliminary
finding of a review made with the assistance of shark experts, fishermen,
captains of big fishing ships and representatives of fishery departments,
the fishing industry, fish markets and fishing ports.

The barbaric practice of 'live-finning' is done by some long-line fishing
boats, principally targeting tuna. When they get the less valuable sharks
in their hooks, they cut the fins and throw the sharks into the water to
make room for tuna. This deplorable practice is outlawed in many

The anti-fin group has misrepresented the facts. By aggressively flooding
print, TV and Internet media with selective images, they have portrayed an
untruth: that all fins are derived from 'live-finning'. Their aim? They
want shark's fin soup to be shunned.

The truth is this: Sharks will continue to be caught and killed on a wide
scale by the more organised and sophisticated fishing nations. Targeting
shark's fin soup will not stop this accidental catch.

The fins from these catches will be thrown away or turned into animal feed
and fertilisers if shark's fin soup is shunned. The practice to salvage
and sell the sharks' fins gives value to discards from the fishing
industry of the world, benefiting both poor and rich countries .

I am not an advocate for greater consumption of shark's fin soup. I am
saying that it is not a shameful culture.

The writer is a member of the Cites Animals Committee and a member of the
Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, England.