Heading in the right direction

Posted by: Sam Meehan

The numbers concerning shark finning, like so many other ecological calamities, are devastating. Rather than recap all of the sobering data here, you can click on these informative links to learn more. No longer a luxury available only to the super-wealthy, shark fin demand has escalated and shark killings have jumped in kind. Scientists have shown that some shark populations have shrunk by as much as 95%, much of which can be attributed to increased fin harvesting. Luckily, for us and the sharks, a global movement to ban the shark fin trade has taken hold and gathered momentum. Hawaii became the first state to ban the sale or possession of shark fin products in 2010 (The law went into effect this past summer). Hawaii’s precedent-forming law built on the current federal laws, which outlaws shark finning in American waters or by American-chartered boats, but did not forbid the sale or possession of imported fins. California, Oregon, and Washington, and Guam soon followed suit. The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, a US territory, also passed a law banning the practice. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, has also recently enacted a shark fin ban. Last month, Canada’s Parliament considered a federal ban. This month, President Obama signed into law the Shark Conservation Act, which tightened loopholes and strengthened the current federal anti-finning laws. With this new legislation, as well as pilot programs in the states mentioned above that could serve as test labs for the effectiveness of overall bans, the time for a national ban on shark fins may be approaching.

Amidst the growing restrictions, some Asian groups have grown irritated with what they see is an unfair, targeted attack on their culture. While it certainly is vital to respect other cultures and their practices, these protests make fairly obvious straw man arguments. If one particular cultural practice clearly, inarguably produces a deleterious effect (as shark finning does), a legal restriction against that practice is not a blanket condemnation of the culture as a whole, and the practice’s cultural importance is not enough reason to allow it to continue. Despite such protests, general sentiment is beginning to  (very) gradually shift in Asia as well, where the consumption of shark fin soup is far more prevalent and entrenched in the culture. Recently, NBA star Yao Ming appeared in a Chinese commercial exhorting his compatriots to abstain from eating shark fin. Hong Kong-based Peninsula Hotel Group, one of the most prestigious hotel chains in Asia, recently announced that it would stop serving shark fin soup at all of its banquet functions. Today, NTUC Fairprice, Singapore’s largest supermarket chain, announced another historic landmark in the fight against finning: it will eliminate all shark fin products by the end of the first quarter of 2012. While these milestones will not spell the end of shark finning any time soon, as there are still no laws anywhere in East Asia limiting shark fin harvesting, it appears we are gaining momentum and heading in the right direction.

Date Posted: January 14, 2012 @ 10:41 pm Comments Off