Ban doesn’t make any environmental sense

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-9-18 20:35:03

Illustration: Sun Ying
Illustration: Sun Ying

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Some suggest that shark fin consumption is encouraging fishing, and banning it will help protect the species. But this may not be the best option for protection. The cessation of demand will not cause fishermen to capture fewer sharks because most of the shark catch is an accidental by-product, especially by tuna longline fisheries.

To better preserve the species, we should reduce overfishing worldwide, especially tuna fishing, as well as combating illegal fishing, rather than constraining people's appetite.

Most of the shark fin put on the dinner table comes from shark bycatch. Sharks and other pelagic animals such as sea turtles get caught up in nets during fishing for tuna and other species, since they share the same habitat.

It is impossible to avoid accidental bycatch due to overfishing worldwide, which seriously threatens global fishing stocks. It is estimated that longline fisheries alone in three oceans deploy altogether 1.4 billion hooks annually, excluding the use of other methods.

Despite the overcapacity in fishing, if a shark is still alive when caught, we should set it free. But the reality is, most of the sharks are already dead due to lack of oxygen or entanglement. In this case, the dead sharks should be used, including their fins. Otherwise, it would be a waste of resources.

If people are all forbidden from eating shark fin, the number of sharks that are accidentally caught will not shrink. On the contrary, it will lead to discarding of caught animals and illegal fishing or smuggling. This will raise the costs of enforcing the law.

Instead of calling on the public to stop eating shark fin, much more effective measures should be implemented to address overfishing, which is the core of the problem.

These measures can include reducing legal fishing activities and cracking down on illegal fishing.

Besides, we need to adjust fishing gear to mitigate the bycatch problem. Research indicates that using monofilament lines and circle hooks increases the survival rate of sharks released when caught.

It is unnecessary to stop consuming shark fin. To better protect sharks and preserve marine diversity, I contend that priority should be given to greatly reducing overfishing so when we take advantage of marine resources in a sustainable manner.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Yu Qian based on an interview with Dai Xiaojie, a professor at the Shanghai Ocean University.

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