By Sophia Read
For The Bali Times
SEMINYAK ~ A restaurant in Sanur called Mezzanine has recently added Shark Fin Soup to its menu, causing consternation among conservationists in Bali.
Worldwide, concern for our shark populations is growing almost as rapidly as they are declining, but the concern is not enough. The figures are simply staggering â€“ experts estimate that some species have declined by 90 percent in the past 10 years. The counter on the homepage of shark and marine conservation site Bite-Back (www.bite-back.com) is showing 35,780,250 sharks killed so far this year alone. No, wait, now its 35,780,260…
Sharks are one of the oceansâ€™ apex predators, and as such, vitally important to the health and survival of the entire marine ecosystem. Without sharks, populations of their prey would explode. At first, this may sound like good news for fishermen, but in fact it has the opposite effect â€“ if the shark prey populations increase rapidly (for example, octopus), their prey will immediately decline (spiny lobster â€“ much prized by humans).
One of the immediate causes of this precipitous decline is the hugely increased demand for shark fins. Shark Fin Soup is a traditionally delicacy in China, and has always been a status item. The vast expansion and success of the Chinese economy has made millions of people newly affluent, and they are showing off their new wealth by ordering shark fin soup.
Genuine shark fin soup will contain either the dorsal or pectoral fin of a shark. Once the fins have been removed, they are skinned and either dried or frozen. Both types need to be soaked before they can be used. This cartilaginous substance has no flavor whatsoever; it simply absorbs the flavor of the rest of the soup, and is added purely because it is costly. It is commonly served at celebrations at parties, in the same way that Westerners serve champagne.
Shark fins are big business. While the actual meat of the shark is relatively worthless, shark fin can trade for US$400 per kilogram.
Almost 50 percent of sharks caught are â€œbycatchâ€ â€“ caught by boats that were fishing for a different species. The most common method that produces a substantial proportion of bycatch is long lining, a method of fishing involving an extended line baited with hundreds of hooks and reaching out over up to 100km. As well as the fish they intend to catch, this method catches and kills large numbers of sharks, turtles and albatrosses.
Almost all of us have seen video footage, or photographs of the horrific process known as finning. This is the practice of catching sharks, removing the fins regardless of whether the fish is still alive and then simply throwing the mutilated body back into the ocean. Sharks need their fins to swim, so these bodies simply sink to the bottom of the ocean, to die of suffocation or attacks from other marine life.
Despite denials from the influential culinary trade in Hong Kong and China, finning as described above does occur on an industrial scale, and has been witnessed, and even filmed. It happens worldwide, and certainly happens here in Indonesia â€“ it has been witnessed even in the pristine reaches of the Raja Empat Islands. Images captured by an underwater photographer of this procedure are simply too gruesome to be reproduced here. The new Misool Eco Resort in the area is enforcing a marine protected area (a locally agreed no-take zone) but previously the fee for a 30-day shark finning permit was only approximately $30.
The growing slaughter of sharks needs to stop now. Sharks are, like humans, long-lived creatures that reproduce rarely. In some species, reproductive maturity is not reached until 15, and then only one pup a year is produced. If species populations fall much lower, there will be no chance for recovery.
So what can we do? For one thing, do not eat at restaurants that offer shark fin soup. If your restaurant or hotel does offer the dish, remonstrate with them. There are some excellent fact sheets available on www.bite-back.org which can help with this. Ask your friends and family not to eat shark fin soup, or eat at restaurants that offer it. If the demand for this cruel and wasteful dish disappears, so will the motive for finning.
The writer is sales manager of AquaMarine Diving â€“ Bali.