A win for our sharks: Fiji bans the import and export of shark fins
We here at Aqua-Trek could not be happier that as of June 7, 2019 the Honorable Minister added shark fins to Section 64 of Fiji’s Customs Act, effectively banning the import and export of fins belonging to any and all shark species.
Shark finning is the process of removing the fin of a shark, which is used to make Shark Fin Soup, considered to be a delicacy in some countries. Due to the high value of shark fins—with a single fin selling up to $500 USD a pound—it is common practice to simply discard the rest of the body, cutting and keeping only the fin. This practice is particularly gruesome, but while finning is a major threat to the shark population worldwide, it is not the only one.
Commercial fisheries, especially those targeting tuna, are also to blame. One study of twelve longline fisheries found that shark by-catch comprised more than 25 percent of the total catch in Fiji’s longline tuna fisheries. And shockingly enough, the shark by-catch of longline fisheries in the Atlantic and Hawaii can reach closer to 50 percent of the total catch. Of the sharks caught by longline fisheries, up to 59 percent die before ever being brought onto the vessel. Of the remaining survivors, it is estimated that roughly 30 percent die during handling, and of that even smaller percentage still remaining, up to 19 percent will die upon release. So what does that all mean for the global shark population and the marine environment at large?
Sharks have slow growth and reproduction rates, making it difficult for reproduction to keep up with diminishment; furthermore, many species of sharks are considered to be keystone species, which means that their demise has a direct and domino-like effect on the entire ecosystem. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed by humans every single year, putting an apex predator, a keystone species, and ultimately, a money making entity in grave danger.
At Aqua-Trek, our mission has always been to make sharks worth more alive than dead. And in Fiji, that may very well be the case. In 2012, shark diving brought in over $42 million USD for the Fijian economy, according to a study put forth by the PEW Research Center, and as of 2010, of the nearly 70,000 divers that visited Fiji, almost 80 percent of them participated in a shark dive. Though we wish the critical role that sharks play in the marine environment were enough to merit their protection, we also think that the contribution they make to the Fijian tourism industry and economy is an important and often overlooked component.
Ultimately, we are incredibly proud of our Fijian government for being one of the first countries in the nation to lead the way, and it is with a heavy yet hopeful heart that we also recognize all of the work still to be done.