(From news.medill.northwestern.edu)- Sharks are a valuable catch in the U.S., not for their meat, but for their fins. The lucrative market for shark fins is driven by the increasing demand for shark fin soup, a delicacy in China and some other Asian countries. “Shark finning” is catching a shark, cutting off its fins, and throwing the carcass back in the water. The shark either bleeds or starves to death and other parts of the shark, which can be used for food or cosmetic purposes, are wasted. There are 250,000 sharks killed each day worldwide, said Andy Dehart, a shark biologist and general manager of the National Aquarium in Washington. Sharks don’t replenish themselves like other fish because they are slow to mature and have few litters, leaving them vulnerable to depleted populations. For example, the Hammerhead Shark population has fallen 89 percent in the last 20 years, Dehart said. “We’re taking them out of the water faster than put them back in,” he said. “Sharks can’t withstand that type of fishing pressure.”
A ban on shark finning has been in effect since 2001 in the United States, and restrictions are getting tighter. On July 24, the Fisheries Management Services, a division of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, imposed a regulation mandating that sharks caught in U.S. waters in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico must be landed with their fins naturally attached.
Before that rule, fishermen were only allowed to take the number of fins that totaled 5 percent of the shark’s weight. But fishermen were mixing and matching shark fins and carcasses because some species’ fins’ were more valuable than others, said Margo Schulze-Haugen, chief of NOAA’s highly migratory species management division.
Legislation passed the House on July 8 to close that same finning loophole. The bill must still get through the Senate.
There are catch limits to some sharks, while other species are off-limits to fishermen.
Because of overfishing, scientists saw a dangerous drop the Sandbar Shark, Dusky Shark and Poor Beagle Shark. Fishermen are not allowed to keep those sharks, and because of a slow reproductive cycle, it will take until at least 60 to 100 years to get populations up to a healthy level.
(By Hallie D. Martin)