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HOMEPAGE SCIENCE FEATURE
A Taste for Shark-Fin
Sharks Face Extinction in Many Areas of Globe
shark
The author of the novel Jaws says he couldn't write the book today, now that much more is known about sharks. Conservationists say sharks are ecologically and commercially extinct in some areas of the world. (Art Today)
Reuters

S I N G A P O R E, Aug. 1 — Twenty-five years after Jaws frightened movie-goers out of their seats, it’s the world’s shark population that may face death — and people who are doing the devouring.
    

    Sharks are being slaughtered in huge numbers, with many killed for shark-fin soup, a Chinese-cuisine delicacy eaten on special occasions across Asia.
     The sleek animals may vanish from the deep unless their killing is brought under control, environmentalists say.
     “Sharks in some areas are already commercially and ecologically extinct, which is what we should be worried about,” said Peter Knights, director of the conservation group WildAid.
     Knights said around the world, some 100 million sharks, skates and rays are killed every year.
     In Asia, the three biggest shark-fin trading centers are the Hong Kong-Southern China region, Taiwan and Singapore.

Jaws Author Lends a Hand
Now the man who made a generation think twice before taking a dip at the seaside, Jaws author Peter Benchley, is coming to the rescue of the animal he did so much to demonize.
     Benchley has joined forces with environmentalists to try and wean Asians off their glutinous shark-fin soup, which is made by boiling the fins with vinegar, starch and flavoring.
     “In the 25 years since Jaws was first released, sharks have experienced an unprecedented and uncontrolled attack,” Benchley told a news conference on a tour of Asia last month.
     “Sharks are much more the victims than the villains,” he said.
     Benchley said scientists now know so much more about sharks than they did when he wrote his bestseller. Many old assumptions about the animals have been tossed out.
     “We have rejected the theory of the rogue shark portrayed in Jaws. There are no man-eating sharks,” he told Reuters.
     “Shark attacks on humans are invariably mistakes by the shark...I don’t regret writing the book then, but I could not write it today. We now know so much more about sharks.”

Changing Menus and Minds
Asia is seen as key in efforts to save the shark because of its long love affair with the soup.
     Shark fins are big business, and restaurants pay up to S$4,000 ($2,350) per kg, Singapore wholesalers said.
     Environmentalists estimate that shark fins worth S$40.6 million ($24 million) were exported from the city state last year.
     Finning, the practice of slicing the fins off live sharks and dumping the animal back into the sea, has raised the ire of conservationists who see it as cruel and wasteful.
     Benchley said the finning of sharks is uneconomical because 99 percent of the animal is wasted.
     Some traders, however, dispute claims that only the fins of sharks are used, saying organs and meat are also consumed.

Still a Delicacy
Traders also pour cold water on the environmentalists’ warnings that the fish are facing extinction.
     “We don’t eat shark fin every day. It’s only a delicacy, not a daily dish,” said William Goh, secretary of Singapore’s Marine and Land Products Association.
     Goh said there was no scientific proof sharks were becoming an endangered species, citing a recent U.N. conference that voted down efforts to protect basking sharks.
     Australia, Britain and the United States have been leading the call to protect sharks and put an end to the unregulated trade in shark products.
     But that proposal recently fell short of a two-thirds majority needed for adoption by the 150-member U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Opposition came from Asian and Latin American countries that have big fishing industries, or are shark consumers.
     No sharks are now protected under international trade rules.
     In Singapore, shark fin is traditionally eaten on special occasions, its cachet for many being that, like caviar and birds’ nest soup, it is so expensive.
     Passenger concerns about finning have led Thai Airways International and Singapore Airlines to remove the soup from their first class menus, but victory in the battle to keep the fish out of soup bowls and in the sea is seen as remote.
     “Shark fin has been the traditional food of the Chinese for thousands of years,” said a Singapore wholesaler.
     “There is something missing if you go to a wedding dinner without shark’s fin.”

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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