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
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
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 dont 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
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 dont eat shark fin every day. Its only a delicacy,
not a daily dish, said William Goh, secretary of Singapores
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 sharks fin.