We need to put our fear of sharks into perspective. Yes, occasionally a human dies as a result of a shark "accident" but this does not make them man-eaters seeking out humans at every available opportunity. In fact, sharks should be the ones scared of us. Every year an estimated 100 million sharks are caught globally, whereas in 2007 just one human was killed by a shark. This begs the question: Who’s the real predator?
As apex predators, sharks are essential to the oceans; they regulate and maintain the balance of life. Unfortunately, this important role that they fulfill is rarely acknowledged; sharks have suffered bad press for decades. Nowadays, sharks are under ever-increasing persecution; millions are caught every year in long-line fisheries, either as by-catch or in targeted fisheries. Most sharks are ‘finned’; whilst still alive, their fins are cut from their bodies, and the rest of the shark is dumped overboard to drown. The fins are destined for a dish served at banquets and weddings in the Far East; shark fin soup is a symbol of privilege and social rank, costing up to US $100 a bowl. It’s the rising demand for this status symbol dish that is driving many species of shark towards extinction.
For those of us in Europe don’t forget that by supporting European Shark Week from 10-18 October 2009 you can help turn this situation around. The EU ban on finning is among the world’s weakest. Hope lies with the new Shark Plan, adopted by the European Commission thanks in large part to support from many of you. The Plan sets the stage for vast improvements in EU shark policies, including the finning ban. Its success depends on collaboration and action by EU Fisheries Ministers and the European Commission. These fishery managers need encouragement from the European public to follow through on the Plan’s initiatives and truly safeguard sharks. Visit www.europeansharkweek.org to find out more and sign the online petition.
Some statistics to ponder:
1 fatal unprovoked shark attack in 2007 – ISAF Statistics for the Top Ten Worldwide Locations with the Highest Shark Attack Activity since 1990, International Shark Attack Files, 2009.
The most recent reported catch information available is for 2007: 781,326 tonnes of sharks and rays, which equates to approximately 50 million individuals based on the assumption that an individual will on average weigh 15kg – FAO (2009) Capture production 1950-2007.
Estimate that annual catches could in fact be in the region of 100 million, due to bodies being discarded at sea thereby not being included in the tonnage, and many contries simply not monitoring their fisheries – Bonfil, R. (1994) Overview of World Elasmobranch Fisheries. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 341. FAO of the United Nations, Rome.