200,000 Reasons Why Shark Finning Is Still a Problem

Authorities in Ecuador bust an illegal operation that killed at least 50,000 sharks.

(Photo: Sonny Tumbelaka/Getty Images)

May 29, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Demand for shark fin soup has waned in countries like China, but the seizure of more than 200,000 shark fins in Ecuador this week shows that even a smaller-scale shark fin trade can have huge consequences.

The fins were destined for China, according to prosecutor Vicente Parraga in Ecuador’s Manabi province, and would have fetched up to $1.5 million.

Police raided nine locations and arrested six people, including a Chinese national, on charges of crimes against wildlife, Ecuador’s attorney general’s office said. The fins were found in sheds and warehouses, where they are dried out before being exported for use in shark fin soup.

The amount of fins equates to at least 50,000 dead sharks, which are often caught, de-finned, and thrown back into the ocean to die. Authorities said it was one of the most serious environmental crimes reported in the country in years.

Finners target roughly 25 percent of all shark species, with 14 of the most affected species experiencing regional population declines as high as 90 percent. The discovery of thousands of shark fins so close to the ecologically sensitive Galápagos Islands has conservationists concerned.

“The seizure of so many shark fins on mainland Ecuador, just 1,000 [kilometers] away from the Galápagos Islands, is deeply distressing,” a spokesperson for the Galapagos Conservation Trust told The Guardian. “Sharks play an essential role in the marine ecosystem, and removing them can cause the entire marine ecosystem to collapse.”

Still, the decline of shark fin demand in Asian countries has been a testament to the power of conservation campaigns backed by celebrities like basketball player Yao Ming.

As recently as 2011, more than 22 million pounds of shark fin was imported to Hong Kong. That demand is in part fueling the 97 million or so sharks killed each year.

The Chinese government has since banned serving shark fin soup at state functions, while 24 airlines and three shipping lines have banned the transport of shark fins and five hotel groups have banned the dish.

Conservation group WildAid reports that by 2014 demand for shark fin soup in China had dropped by half, and a study published in the journal Biological Conservation in January found that shark fin consumption had dropped more than 25 percent worldwide.

So, Why Should You Care? A quarter of the world’s sharks are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union of Conservation Scientists, and overfishing is the main threat. As top predators, sharks play an important ecological role in maintaining biological diversity in the world’s oceans.