ByÂ Aditi Thakker:
Last week, the Ministry of Environment and Forests banned shark finning in India. Wait wait. Shark finning happens in India? No, many Indians are vegetarian and the ones that are not stick to the tried and tested pomfret and Bombay duck. This article is going to be your myth buster about sharks and the shameful shark finning industry.
Like most other people, I too was afraid of sharks till one of my SCUBA Diver friends told me about his experiences with these beautiful docile creatures. I looked up shark attacks on humans and what I found was the more than astonishing. Shark attacks, on an average, result in five deaths a year. Worldwide. Statistically, for every one human that a shark kills, we kill 2 million sharks.
Over 50% of the shark attacks taking place are on surfers. A shark, which is underwater, sees a surfer on the surface of the ocean, easily mistakes him for a seal (owing to the position of the surfers body on the surf board). Seals are shark’s favourite food. Most of these surfers lose an arm or a leg, seldom are these attacks fatal. Why then, are we so afraid of them? Time to say thank you to the movie ‘Jaws’.
For years, sharks have been captured, finned and been thrown back into oceans, left to die a painful death. In the process of shark finning, the pectoral fins, dorsal fins, the pelvic fin, anal fin and the caudal fins are chopped off, and the shark is thrown back into the oceans. Sharks are thus left immobilised, without their fins. The tragedy doesn’t end here. In order to be able to breathe, sharks need to move constantly. Unfortunately, with fins chopped off they are no longer able to swim and usually die of suffocation, which could last up to three days.
What more, out of every 10 fins that a fisherman chops off, almost eight are discarded are useless. The remaining fins are sold by Indian fishermen at a mere 20-30 rupees a kilo to large fishing corporations, which then in turn sell them at over 40 times the price to restaurants in East Asia. A small portion of shark fin soup, which has a few stands of the shark fin (almost like garnish), is then sold at over $100 plus taxes. This soup is extremely popular in China, Japan and Singapore, and being able to afford this soup is considered a status symbol.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations estimates that India is the second largest supplier of shark fins to the world. Fishermen from the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands are involved in this disgraceful and barbaric trade. I do sympathise with the fishermen who have greater problem to think about, like feeding their family. But they are paid peanuts for their catch. The Indian Ministry of Tourism could well use the knowledge that these fishermen have about shark citing, and develop a whole shark watching industry. One where the fisherman gets his bread, and the shark her life. The monetary value of shark will be so much greater through marine tourism, even to the fisherman.
After years of persuasion and activism by Animal Rights groups around the world, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, India declared a ban on shark finning. It is a commendable move, but is it enough? Now, no fisherman or trawler can chop of the fins of a shark and throw her back into the sea. Instead, if they catch sharks they are obliged to bring them to shore with fins attached and declare it, and then ‘do whatever they like’. Is this really going to reduce the number of sharks that are killed for their fins? Probably. A constraint on the number of sharks one can carry on their fishing vessel, will give the rest a fair chance of survival. Of course, with the prevalent level of corruption in India, which hasn’t spared humans, sharks are far behind in the queue.
Why bother so much about sharks, when other fish are being killed too? The global shark population is depleting at an alarming rate. Sharks are unable to sustain the current level of shark killings, and will eventually become extinct. Many species are already on the verge of extinction. Sharks are apex predators and their presence is the basis of a well-functioning marine ecosystem. Sharks do not reproduce as often and in large numbers like their aquatic friends, and the shark finning industry is threatening their very existence. Shark killing has resulted in the murder of so many sharks, and now we’re after their babies. A food chain without its apex predator also leads to the extinction of many other species leading to an imbalanced ecosystem. All this for a bowl of soup?
Mahama Gandhi one said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” The way sharks have been finned over the years reflects in our society. Pick an innocent person, chop of hands, legs and make sure they can’t breathe. Leave them to die, people will watch and do nothing.
Photo Credit: Kshitij MittalÂ