Waiter, there’s a fin in my soup…

The pop­u­lar­ity of shark fin soup is driv­ing waste­ful fish­ing prac­tices around the globe, New Zealand in­cluded.

Element - - Ecology - By So­phie Bar­clay

In parts of China, a bowl of steam­ing shark fin soup con­fers upon the con­sumer an ex­clu­sive sta­tus, sup­posed good health and viril­ity. With a grow­ing Chi­nese mid­dle class, shark fin soup is no longer the main­stay of the priv­i­leged.

Sharks have reg­u­lated the oceans for mil­lions of years. They are slow to ma­ture sex­u­ally and have few off­spring. 73 mil­lion sharks are killed an­nu­ally by hu­mans con­tribut­ing to a ma­jor de­cline in num­bers. The ma­jor­ity is caught for a lu­cra­tive in­dus­try. Shark fins sell for up to US$1000 a kilo­gram.

Shark fin­ning is a waste­ful prac­tice whereby only 2% of the fish is utilised. Fish­er­men land shark (di­rectly or as by­catch), har­vest the fins, and throw back the cum­ber­some car­cass which fills valu­able fish­ing ves­sel space. In New Zealand it is le­gal to fin sharks, as long as they are dead.

The Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries (MPI) says that fish­ery ob­servers en­sure that live fin­ning does not oc­cur and that le­gal breaches re­sult in pros­e­cu­tion un­der the An­i­mal Wel­fare Act. How­ever, there is ev­i­dence that live fin­ning per­sists in New Zealand wa­ters. A video posted on For­est & Bird’s web­site, for ex­am­ple, de­picts the cruel act; sharks floun­der in the water; un­able to swim and there­fore un­able to ex­tract oxy­gen from the water. They drown.

Shark fin­ning has been out­lawed in 98 coun­tries, as well as 9 re­gional fish­eries man­age­ment groups (which pre­side over in­ter­na­tional wa­ters). Last year, French Poly­ne­sia, the Cook Is­lands, Palau and Amer­i­can Samoa pro­hib­ited shark fish­ing en­tirely in their ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters, opt­ing in­stead for shark sanc­tu­ar­ies.

Un­der its in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions to the UN’s Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion, New Zealand has a Na­tional Plan of Ac­tion (NPOA) for sharks, en­sur­ing “the con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment of sharks and their long-term sus­tain­able use.” Of the 112 shark species recorded in our wa­ters, more than 70 are fished. Yet only eleven of th­ese are man­aged un­der the quota man­age­ment sys­tem (QMS).

The New Zealand Shark Al­liance (NZSA) is an um­brella group es­tab­lished last Oc­to­ber, com­pris­ing NGOs as well as or­gan­i­sa­tions con­cerned about the sus­tain­abil­ity of sharks. The NZSA are push­ing for pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal sup­port to im­ple­ment the ‘fins nat­u­rally at­tached’ method, the UN-rec­om­mended best prac­tice. Ka­t­rina Sube­dar from For­est & Bird, one of the 15 or­gan­i­sa­tions in the NZSA, ex­plains that the method would en­sure only whole sharks were landed, re­duc­ing waste and by­catch prof­itabil­ity.

Cur­rently, says Tracy Brown from Sea Shep­herd (also an NZSA mem­ber), fin­ning could be cost-ef­fec­tive in our tuna in­dus­try. “There are more sharks caught as by­catch in South­ern Bluefin Tuna fish­eries than the tar­geted fish, and lit­tle in­cen­tive for shark con­ser­va­tion.” The fin­ning in­dus­try is small in New Zealand, says Scott Gal­lacher, the MPI deputy di­rec­tor of gen­eral re­source man­age­ment and pro­grammes. Shark fin ex­ports were val­ued at $4.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally up to 2010 and are es­ti­mated to be around $2.5 mil­lion this last fish­ing year. Out of a $1.65 bil­lion dol­lar ex­port in­dus­try, it rep­re­sents a tiny frac­tion. De­spite this, New Zealand is among the top twenty fin sup­pli­ers to Hong Kong.

Many restau­rants in New Zealand stock the soup. It is tough for con­sumers to dis­cover the prove­nance of the fins and how they have been har­vested. Brown, also in­volved with Shark Fin Free Auck­land (SFFA), says that th­ese restau­rant go­ers are over­whelm­ingly sup­port­ive of a shark fin­ning ban – but restau­ran­teurs ap­pear less en­thused. “To date, no restau­rants have re­moved shark fin from their menu, although one restau­rant rewrote the menu omit­ting the shark fin dishes in English with the Chi­nese menu re­tain­ing all shark fin prod­ucts.”

The Chi­nese Com­mu­nist party has recog­nised the is­sue, ban­ning the serv­ing of shark fin soup at of­fi­cial ban­quets. It will take time to im­ple­ment, how­ever, and longer to be­come es­tab­lished within the Chi­nese psy­che.

If you are aware of shark fin­ning oc­cur­ring, con­tact

for the Min­istry Pri­mary In­dus­tries

0800 00 83 33

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.