Do you know what ‘shark finning’ is and why, in addition to being cruel, this practice represents a problem for the entire marine ecosystem?
The term is used to designate the cutting off of a shark’s fin, which is then discarded still alive at sea, resulting in a slow and painful death sentence to the animals.
But what do people in general have to do with it and how can they help mitigate these brutal captures?
According to estimates by the Humane Society International, a non-governmental animal protection organization operating in more than 50 countries, around 72 million sharks are killed each year just to have their fins removed. The goal? Serve as a delicacy for a traditional and sophisticated soup, consumed in Asian countries such as China, Japan, Hong Kong and Vietnam.
A bowl of shark fin soup can cost up to US$100. A luxury for a few, but resulting in a global problem: today, countless species of sharks are threatened with extinction due to predatory capture and the imbalance in marine systems.
In addition, despite the consumption of shark fin soup is restricted to the Asian region, these animals circulate (and are targeted) in the oceans around the world and, even with several countries banning the practice, hunting and trade are not rare. illegal finning.
The parts removed usually include pectoral fins, dorsal fins and the caudal fin of sharks, but, depending on the species, size and characteristics of the animal, the pelvic fins, less appreciated, can also be removed. The affected species are diverse, among them the hammerhead shark, the shortfin shark and the nurse shark.
Brazil has the highest consumption of shark meat in the world
In recent years, especially in the early 2010s, IBAMA (Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) seized dozens of tons of shark fins during surveillance operations along the Brazilian coast.
A publication by the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp) points out that, between 1998 and 2014, operations in Pará and Rio Grande do Sul resulted in the seizure of 85 tons of dry fins, ready for export. There are also historical records of seizures in states such as Santa Catarina, São Paulo and Rio Grande do Norte. Apart from the total that is not known to the authorities. An indication that ‘finning’ is closer than we imagined, even though the practice has been banned for years in the country.
It is also noteworthy that, according to recent studies, seven out of ten Brazilians do not know that the dogfish meat that is sold in supermarkets is, in fact, shark (only the nomenclature changes). Brazil is also the world’s largest importer and consumer of dogfish meat, that is, even if unintentionally, this consumption stimulates commercialization and threatens the preservation of shark species.
The harmful effects of ‘finning’ have recently returned to generate debates, from a series of posts made online by Ibama’s environmental agent, Wallace Lopes. The first message published on Twitter highlighting a seizure of tons of shark fins made by Ibama in Pará, in 2012, had more than 6,700 replications, almost 800 comments and more than 30,000 likes.
Afterwards, the federal inspector gave details of how the practice works and highlighted that although Brazilians do not have a tradition of consuming shark fin soup, it plays, in his words, “a central role in the risk of extinction that, unfortunately, afflicts many shark species”.
“The case is that most countries do not have the custom of consuming shark meat. Brazil did not have it either, but then the national fishing industry resolved this issue by giving shark meat a different name: sold here under the generic name of This misleading information, attractive prices and the fact that it is white meat without thorns are some of the factors that have resulted in increased consumption among Brazilian families. The problem is that the product we see sliced into steaks or fillets can hide endangered species”, points out in the publications.
The explanation lies in the lack of adequate labels referring to the species being sold. “In addition to the possibility of consuming endangered species, it can also serve as a “laundry” for the fin trade, which is much more profitable”, denounced Lopes.
for Dr. Renato Hajenius Aché de Freitas, professor in the Department of Ecology and Zoology and supervisor of the Teleost and Elasmobranch Biology Laboratory at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, which is a reference on the subject of sharks, the concern is genuine.
This is because there is demand in the market and the practice affects top predators, which are responsible for maintaining balance in the marine ecosystem.
“What happens is that dogfish meat, one of the reasons for catching sharks, does not have a high added price. With this, to save space on vessels and take advantage of the ‘supra juice’ extracted from the animals, which are the fins destined for mainly for export to the Asian market, historically the fins have been removed from the animals that are still alive and the rest of the body is thrown into the sea. aspects of marine life”, points out Freitas.
Reducing consumption helps preserve species
In Brazil, as there is no consumption of fins and many species of sharks are protected from capture by legislation, according to the UFSC professor, it happens that in addition to the search for dogfish meat, many of the sharks fall into nets and die. This is also a considerable factor in the illegal trade in fins.
“In these cases, the fisherman is often faced with the following option: either return the shark to the sea even though the animal is dead, or hide these fins in the boat and try to pass it on to another vessel before returning. made right there and the pieces are taken by these middlemen to international waters. There is no way to measure the size of this parallel trade. In addition, there is still disembarkation in non-traditional places and at dawn even in Brazilian waters to circumvent the (low) existing inspection “, he clarifies.
The specialist also points out that any citizen can report the practice of ‘finning’ to control bodies, such as the PMA (Military Environmental Police), IBAMA, ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation), among others. However, for him, the main practice that people should adopt is to stop consuming dogfish meat, which would contribute not only to the preservation of these animals, but also to the health of consumers and the balance of entire ecosystems.
“Many of these sharks are threatened with extinction and we are often unable to detect the species being commercialized. In other words, without consumption, the capture of sharks also decreases as a consequence and, in a cascade effect, illegal cutting of fins tends to fall shark”.
“In addition, there is also a health issue behind the reduction of this consumption: many of these species, because they are top predators, accumulate heavy metals in their meat (such as lead, mercury, nickel, etc.) which is harmful to people because the effect of this throughout life is not known”, he concludes.
Since the 1990s, actions to combat ‘finning’ have become more frequent and energetic in the fight against shark exploitation. In 1999, the United Nations (UN) created the ‘International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks’. Although no country is required to participate in the initiative, many nations are adhering to accountability regulations.
In the United States, since 2010, a shark conservation law requires the animals to arrive on land with their fins intact, reducing the practice of ‘finning’. In Brazil, in 2014, ordinance number 445 was edited, which defines endangered species on the Brazilian coast and prohibits the capture of these species, also inhibiting the action. Last month, Ordinance 148 updated the information contained in the previous regulation.
Other important efforts come from Europe. Last year, the UK government indicated that it will introduce a ban on the import and export of shark fins. A popular initiative created in the countries that make up the European Union collected, until January, more than 1.2 million signatures to present to Parliament and end the trade in fins in the bloc.
In Asia itself, restaurant and hotel chains have also stopped selling fin soup, an indication that much remains to be done, but awareness is growing.