In Hong Kong and the mainland today there is ample evidence that a shift is occurring in consciousness. Although many among the older generations may be set in their ways, college students are heavily engaged in this effort. “It appears the younger generations are indeed less interested in shark fin soup than their elders,” Fordham notes. A number of local celebrities have also jumped on board – even Chinese basketball superstar Yao Ming has sworn off shark fin soup. Richard Branson has joined him.
“The key is to celebrate while also empowering and informing,” Packard says. “In other words, we don’t just show a bunch of negative grizzly images, but also give people hope.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Goodsell adds, “The younger generations in Asia are more informed and sensitive to the issue. They will start to utilize these products less and demand will decrease. This industry will decrease rapidly.”
There has some signs this may have begun. In 2010, Hawaii was the first state in the U.S. to outlaw shark fins. Several other states have followed suit. Further signs that the tides are turning include shark fin bans by MUJI Taiwan, which took instant shark fin soup off its menu; airlines, including Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand; and a number of major hotel chains in Hong Kong. Further, Fordham notes that finning is already banned outright by a growing number of countries (at least 40, plus the EU) and by most international fisheries bodies.
A Dose of Realism
For all of the progress made, perhaps a dose of realism is in order.
“We live in an economically disparate world so people in poverty take advantage of that,” Goodsell says. “In places like Palau and Indonesia there is always going to be illegal fishing.”
Though hopeful, Russo adds a caveat: “Shark finning is akin to the trade in ivory. It probably will never be completely stamped out, but in an ideal world it may be made illegal someday. But I think you’ll see some species become extinct before that point.”
But those who advocate sustainable fishing suggest that across-the-board bans do not guarantee survivability.
“Finning bans only address the issue of how the shark is killed (in the case of bans on live finning) and whether the entire shark is fully utilized,” Clarke says. “Finning bans do not directly control how many sharks are killed.”
Speaking specifically about the fin trade in the U.S., Hueter adds, “Banning the shark fin trade in the U.S. will not solve the problem and will actually penalize domestic fishermen who are playing by the rules, and reward those in other countries who are fishing unsustainably and even finning the sharks (without using the meat). Even a worldwide end to the shark fin trade would not guarantee that sharks would recover, because bycatch mortality issues will remain.”
“What is needed,” Hueter continues, “is large-scale, integrated management of shark fisheries across broad regions. We must engage governments with jurisdictions throughout the entire ranges of migratory sharks and implement rules to conserve sharks effectively. We must agree on which are prohibited species, what areas we need to make off-limits to shark fishing, and what the total allowable catches should be.”
Here Hueter highlights another catch-22 that would arise with the implementation of a total ban on fins: “Banning the fin trade at this stage will drive it underground into a black market situation, driving up the price of fins and eliminating any chance to track landings reliably.”
Fordham, who advocates an approach similar to that Hueter proposes, sums things up with a measured dose of optimism. While she admits that it’s difficult to predict where this will all lead, she says, “It seems that efforts to ban shark finning, manage shark fisheries and trade, and educate consumers, are all gaining ground and improving the outlook for sustainability, and these should continue.”
Looking for more information? The argument for sustainable fishing is made in the documentary Two Sides to a Fin, which can be seen here. For a stance much more strongly against the fin trade, see Sharkwater, a nine-part documentary that starts here.