Editorial – Jaws of Death

Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of shark-related products, WWF Bali told us this week, and indeed Times reporters spotted such delicacies widely available around the island – from upmarket supermarkets to tiny fishing villages.

This deplorable accolade comes at a time when shark is being widely overfished, its stocks dramatically plunging below sustainable breeding levels.

Not only does such frenetic shark fishing endanger the creature; it also hurts ecosystems and, above ground, the economy, especially, for Bali, in terms of tourism. Many people from around the world travel to this island to witness the wonders of the deep and what they hold. Only last week, there was news of yet more new marine species being discovered in this, one of the great biodiverse regions of the world that tantalizes divers.

In Indonesia, the WWF says, there is widespread disdain of the shark – king of the seas – because of its largely unwarranted sobriquet of man-eater. The WWF has been successful in getting shark off the menu of Jakarta restaurants, but regrettably it’s an uphill battle to educate consumers – as is all too evident in Bali.

Last week at least one high-end supermarket – near the airport and catering to expatriates, affluent Indonesians and foreign tourists – was selling translucent boxes of dried shark fin – for up to Rp900,000 (almost US$100) a pop. Especially popular among Chinese, shark fin is the result of a violently brutal procedure in which the fish’s dorsal fin is hacked off, the body often cast back into the ocean, leaving the fatally wounded creature to die an agonizing death.

For all people of conscience, such items on menus or in stores should be outright rejected.

Meanwhile, anyone paying a visit to coastal communities and their fishing endeavors will be shocked to see a wide variety of stunning marine life that deserves to remain in the water and not end up on a plate.

Consumption of shark, it appears, is right up there with vanity – and a vain attempt to enhance one’s virility – showing others you can afford this exotic, expensive food, even when it is nutrition-less cartilage containing dangerously high levels of poisonous mercury. This, lest we forget, is a majestic fish that has swum the earth’s oceans for more than 400 million years, before the dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Charles Frew, director of Asiatic Marine in Hong Kong, told The Times this week that the Chinese territory is the “shark fin capital of the world” and that most such products come from Indonesia and other countries in the region.

As there is no regulation of shark fishing in Indonesia, or of many other sea creatures, it is high time the government puts into place stringent legislation that will tip the balance firmly in favor of the fish.

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