01 March 2009

they were here before us

A couple of weeks ago I watched the movie 'Sharkwater' and was truly horrified by the amount of shark finning that still continues. Sharks have been on the Earth for over 400 million years. They are an evolutionary masterpiece and perfectly adapted for their role as the top-most predator in the ocean food chains of the world.

As a key-stone predator, sharks have shaped the evolution of many creatures as predation is one of the primary forms of natural selection. There is also very little change between modern sharks and sharks from a million years ago which means that they are so well adapted to their environment that there is very little natural selection pressure on them... until we came along. Not only are we disturbing shark population by pollution, long-line fishing etc but sharks are also hunted for their fins which is a multi-billion dollar industry. Shark-fin hunting is a brutal practice where the animal is thrown back into the sea and left to die with all its fins cut off.

Shark specialists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, annually resulting in the devastating loss of shark populations around the world. Experts estimate that within a decade, most species of sharks will be lost because of longlining, finning and unsustainable fishery. The massive quantity of sharks harvested and lack of selection deplete shark populations faster than their reproductive abilities can replenish population threatens the stability of marine ecosystems.

Each country with a coastline is responsible for laws and regulations pertaining to fishing in their waters. According to the IUCN Shark Specialist group, the easiest way to implement a ban is to require that shark carcasses be landed with fins attached. The possession of fins alone on vessels would thus be illegal. Shark finning violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The United Nations Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) lists the whale shark, basking shark, and great white shark as species that could become threatened if trade is not controlled. To date, 169 countries have agreed to be legally bound by CITES.

The following statistics were found in an article written by Maneka Gandhi for PFA. Of the 368 species of sharks in the world, we have 50 in Indian waters. The largest is the 50 feet long whale shark and the smallest is the 8-inch long pygmy ribbontail catshark. We have a 7000 km long coastline. According to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, the Fishery Survey of India annually , around 70,000 tonnes of shark fins are sourced from India. For 1 tonne of shark fins about 650 sharks are killed. Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are responsible for 85% of the shark killings in India. Chennai and Mumbai are the major shark fin trading centres. An average small fisherman about Rs 25/day. The company sells them for Rs 250. The foreign restaurant retails the single bowl of soup for Rs 6,000. Ironically, shark fin has no nutrition and is tasteless - the flavour of the soup usually comes from chicken broth.

These figures are alarming. As the top ocean predator, sharks contribute in keeping our fish stocks and oceans healthy. Oceans without these powerful, graceful and shy creatures are unimaginable. A situation we are likely to face in an estimated 10 years if action is not taken now. They were here much before us, it is a shame that all we see now is a bowl of soup.

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