What about nations where regulations are loosely enforced and fishers do what they must to make ends meet? Hueter observes that “in less developed nations where shark meat is harvested for protein for people, prohibiting the fins from being sold would likely not reduce the fishing mortality of sharks much, because the meat is still needed. But why would we do that? Why throw the fins away if the shark is being caught and killed for its meat anyway?”
He continues: “An example of a nation where this would be the case would be Mexico – one of the largest shark fisheries in the world, and the sharks are fully utilized for meat, fins, and sometimes jaws, teeth, liver, cartilage, skin and other products. There is nothing wrong with this as long as the sharks aren’t overfished – which of course is the question.”
Then there is the issue of sharks swimming into fishermen’s nets, meant for other species. While many still insist this is a major source of shark deaths, Hoyer points out that this is no longer a common occurrence. “Now with new technology (excluders placed on nets) sharks escape and no sharks are caught anymore,” he said. “Tuna fishers use nylon trace rather than steel trace so sharks can cut the line with their teeth and free themselves.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Many activists are not swayed by the evidence supporting sustainability, and instead call for an outright ban on all shark fisheries. For members of this group, one major factor that works against their cause is the lack of compassion people feel for these seemingly fierce predators of the deep – an image that is heavily reinforced by the media and entertainment. Cue Jaws.
Recent reports indicating public attitudes towards sharks include the story of a shark that was strung up near the coast of New South Wales in an “act of cruelty,” while another dead shark was spotted on the New York City subway that went viral when images circulated of it with a cigarette in its mouth and an energy drink next to it.
“If any animal needs some good PR, it would have to be sharks,” Packard says. “In truth, eating sharks is more dangerous than swimming with sharks. They are very high in mercury content—basically any kind of pollution in the ocean.”
According to National Geographic, around 50 to 75 people worldwide are attacked by sharks each year, with 5 to 15 fatalities. A list of 11 animals more likely to kill you includes bees, ants, cows, mosquitoes, hippos, dogs and even deer.
While shark fin soup is the most obvious food that includes shark, Packard explains that fish cake sold in convenience stores is often shark. “They’re basically poisoning the next generation of Japanese by selling this meat,” he says.
A number of campaigns are underway in the east and west to correct these misconceptions and focus public attention on the real danger: the possibility that these ecosystem lynchpin species are in grave danger. From the Discovery Channel’s recently passed Shark Week to information campaigns like Shark Savers, the shark conservation initiative is in full swing.