Save our Sharks
With up to an incredible 73 million sharks killed every year, predominantly for their meat and fins, it’s no wonder that the IUCN has assessed that one-third of all open ocean shark species are threatened with extinction.
A key driver of the plight of sharks is the trade in shark fins for use in soup. In Australia threatened species such as hammerhead sharks continue to be captured and exported for their fins, despite international agreements designed to protect the species and limit the trade.
Governments also deliberately kill sharks in nets and drum lines in NSW and Queensland despite this practice being outdated and the existence of more humane methods for protecting people.
Here at the Australian Marine Conservation Society we have a long history of working for shark conservation. Live shark finning, the practice of cutting the fins from live sharks and dumping the body, is illegal in all jurisdictions in Australia, thanks largely to AMCS campaigning.
However there is a long way to go and we are currently focusing our work on:
- Banning the trade in Australian import and export in shark fins
- Protecting threatened shark species like hammerheads from fisheries and shark cull impacts.
Why are sharks important?
Sharks are considered ‘keystone species’, which means that as top predators, they are extremely important in maintaining the balance in marine ecosystems. Removing too many sharks from an ecosystem can lead to a monumental shift in the equilibrium between predators and prey all the way through the food chain. Recent Australian research has linked maintaining healthy shark populations to coral cover and the health of coral reefs.
Although there are well over 1,000 different species of sharks swimming our blue planet, this diverse group is generally characterised by biology that makes them especially vulnerable to fishing pressure; they are often long-lived, slow growing and late to reach maturity and reproductive age. This means they take a long time to recover from over-exploitation.
But the value of sharks doesn't just lie in their body parts. Not only are sharks of priceless value to the oceans, they are also a huge revenue earner in the tourism industry. In Palau, it was estimated that a single shark brings in US$179,000 every year in tourism dollars, or a total of US$1.9 million in the life span of a single shark. The value of 100 dead sharks in both fins and flesh amounts to 0.00006% of the lifetime value of the same sharks1.
With no demonstrably sustainable shark fisheries currently in operation, AMCS does not support shark culling, or targeted shark fishing, in Australia or the world. At this point in time, with no consensus on what form a sustainable shark fishery would take, AMCS continues to work to protect endangered species of sharks from the negative impacts of fishing. Biologically more like whales than fish, sharks belong in the sea.
1 Vianna GMS, Meekan MG, Pannell D, Marsh S, Meeuwig J (2010) Wanted Dead or Alive? The relative value of reef sharks as a fishery and an ecotourism asset in Palau. Australian Institute of Marine Science and University of Western Australia, Perth.