An average of five humans have been killed by sharks each year since 2000, yet every year we kill up to 75 million sharks for their fins, used in Chinese shark's fin soup, and as bycatch in our fisheries.
Slow breeding shark populations cannot sustain such relentless harvesting, and many species are now endangered. Shark numbers have crashed as a result with some species for example, Atlantic hammerhead sharks, being reduced to 1% of their former abundance.
Shark finning has expanded globally due to rising demand by affluent Chinese for the high status shark fin soup.
Retailing at about US$ 430/kg in Hong Kong the trade is a lucrative one for fishermen. Finning is inhumane and cruel in the extreme. Because the rest of the shark's body is virtually worthless, fins are sliced off at sea and the rest of the carcass tossed into the ocean to die slowly or be eaten alive.
But its not all bad news for sharks, in recent weeks both the US and the EU have moved to make shark finning illegal in their waters.
President Obama signed into law the Shark Conservation Act which bans the removal of fins at sea, forcing vessels involved in the fishery to return to port with the whole shark, making the practice unprofitable.
"Shark finning has fuelled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans," said Senator John Kerry, the bill's author, in a statement. "Finally we've come through with a tough approach to tackle this serious threat to our marine life."
As shark numbers continue to plummet due to the shark fin trade it will be harder than ever for these open ocean sharks to meet each other to reproduce. Longline tuna fisheries that target one of the favourite meals of large ocean going sharks catch many times more sharks than tuna. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay stepped into the campaign to stop the use of fins in soup, pronouncing the taste bland.
John Richardson, Conservation Officer at the Shark Trust added, "The problem is that sharks breed only slowly, and although the new laws passed by the US, and proposed by the EU are a huge step forward in shark conservation, they need urgent protection in the open ocean where most are caught".
Image © Lwzfoto