Humans kill 73 million sharks every year, nearly all for consumption, mainly in shark fin soup. The fins are cut off and the bodies dumped overboard, a barbaric practice known as finning. Commercial fishermen are taking more and more sharks for their meat as well.
Nearly a third of shark species in the open oceans are threatened with extinction. Losing these top predators creates a cascading imbalance. The species whose numbers the sharks once controlled begin to explode; they then wipe out smaller fish, some of which humans depend on for food. Water quality suffers. Healthy oceans require sharks, and without healthy oceans, healthy fisheries are impossible.Though the appetite for shark fin soup is greatest in Asia, the carnage is global. There are no international limits on the numbers of sharks that may be taken. At a recent meeting in Spain, regional fishing organizations agreed to begin collecting data and considering measures to conserve sharks. That is barely a beginning. What is needed is a global agreement to establish serious catch limits and end finning.
Washington is beginning to get the message. The House has approved a bill that would close several loopholes in a 2000 law banning finning in American waters. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate. Passing it would give the United States the credibility to press globally for shark conservation. Shark fin soup is no reason to decimate a species or ruin the oceans.