Academic journal article Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum

From Shark Finning to Shark Fishing: A Strategy for the U.S. & Eu to Combat Shark Finning in China & Hong Kong

Academic journal article Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum

From Shark Finning to Shark Fishing: A Strategy for the U.S. & Eu to Combat Shark Finning in China & Hong Kong

Article excerpt


Globally, the shark population is under extreme stress, primarily due to the rise of China and a growing middle class with a taste for a cultural dish: shark fin soup. (1) Sharks play an important ecologic role and can be extremely beneficial to the local economy. They can also be an important food source for people if harvested sustainably and not in a manner that challenges the morality of humans' relationship with the ocean; something the current shark finning practices do. Approaches to sustainable shark fishing at the international and domestic level have met some success. Even so, China and Hong Kong have become major markets for shark fins. Because of economic prowess and experience in shark finning regulatory schemes, the U.S. and EU are in a unique position to induce China to draft a similar set of rules and policies through a series of incentives. These rules would look similar to the ones in the U.S. and EU and would ban shark finning, only allowing the landings of fully intact sharks. This strategy could provide much needed relief to global shark populations. While challenges to implement this may arise from Hong Kong, the WTO and Japan, there are still pathways to successful implementation.


The problems of shark finning are deeply rooted within humanity's complex relationship with sharks. It is hard to think of a shark without imagining a fin moving above the water and hearing the music from Jaws. (2) Younger generations may associate sharks with a video of a dare defying breach from the water during Discovery Channel's Shark Week (3) or a made-for-TV movie about a "sharktornado." (4) Even though these animals inspire terror, (5) the shark population should fear humans, not the other way around. Shark finning carried out by humans is the primary reason for the death of up to 273 million sharks per year. (6)

Shark fishing is not a new phenomenon (7) and sharks have been killed as a result of fishing by-catch for decades. (8) The problem at hand is the uptick in shark finning globally due to the rise of China. (9) Shark finning occurs when a fisherman catches a shark and slices off the shark's fin, taking the fin back to the market to sell and dumping the shark's body in the ocean, often when the shark is still alive. (10) The main economic incentive for shark finning comes from China where shark fins are used predominately in the popular "shark fin soup." (11) Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in Chinese culture. (12) Chinese Emperors used to favor it in their dishes, creating the sense of luxury that surrounds the dish. (13) Now it is commonly found at "weddings, corporate celebrations and high-falutin' business lunches to demonstrate a host's good fortune." (14)

A. Shark Economics: Benefits to People

The destruction of the global shark populations is an economic, ecologic, medical and moral issue. To begin, shark finning is an inefficient economic use of sharks. From a food perspective, shark finning is an enormous waste. Over 95% of the actual shark meat is wasted with shark finning because only the fins are kept due to their status as a delicacy and the rest of the shark is thrown back into the ocean. (15) To put that in perspective, for each one person fed by a shark fin, nineteen additional people could be fed. For a country like China with 1.37 billion people, that is a massive waste of a valuable product. (16)

Additionally, sharks in recent years have been a large source of eco-tourism. Shark diving and shark watching have become popular activities for travelers. South Africa boasts of its opportunity to cage dive with great white sharks (17) and Mexico encourages tourists to snorkel with whale sharks. (18) A recent study looked at 83 different shark related tourism activities in 29 countries and examined the economic benefits. (19) In some locations, like a small area of the Maldives, shark ecotourism provided $2. …

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