Sharks: fin?

By Bethany GrangerShark_SteveGarner

Sharks are the oceans predators, perfected by millions of years of evolution. So why is it that we continue to hunt this ‘apex predator’, and deplete the population of a species which appears so magnificent to the human eye?

A significant population decline has been produced as a result of a combination of an increase in shark fishing, alongside the slow reproductive rate of sharks, exceeding their ability to recover. Sharks are desired by commercial fisheries for their fins, meat, liver oil and cartilage; all of which then go into production for consumers worldwide.

More specifically, Blue Sharks are thought to be the most commonly caught shark species and are now categorised as ‘near threatened’ on the IUCN Red List, with population declines of up to 80% in some regions since the 1980’s. It is estimated that up to 1.1 million Blue Sharks are caught in the Atlantic Ocean every year and this figure is expected to escalate. The fishing is mostly carried out by Spanish, Portuguese and Tunisian fishing fleets, and then sold on to Taiwan or Hong Kong, where they are processed for dispatch.

One of the key reasons as to why the Blue Shark is so popular is their fins; the Chinese use the fins of Blue Sharks to make a soup which is popular in Chinese banquets. It is anticipated that the demand in the last fifty years has excelled due to increased income levels and the desire of wealthy populations to experience more authentic, original tastes.

Globally, overfishing of sharks has had a significant effect on not only the population of Sharks, but more overwhelmingly so, on coastal ecosystems. It can be anticipated that the loss of ‘apex predators’, such as Sharks from the ocean, will allow mesopredator populations to increase significantly, this will consequently has negative effects on lower level prey species. It is important to remember that sharks are at the top of the food chain and therefore the prospect of them being insignificant within this system may consequently mean the end of the line for other species. The role of Sharks help to keep populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem.

Sharks have unfortunately fallen victim to the man-hungry stereotype society has created for them. Paradoxically, it seems what the world should really fear is a world without sharks.

Photograph: Steve Garner

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