Sharks in Peril: A Call for Action
by Heather Williams
For 400 million years sharks have ruled the seas as the ultimate apex predators. They are responsible for maintaining a healthy ocean and a balanced food web. But now, sharks face a new threat; a new apex predator has moved in, and that predator is us.
Each year humans kill an estimated one hundred million sharks through various forms of over-fishing, bycatch, and the despicable act of finning. The demand for shark products has caused shark populations to plummet, some by as much as 80 percent. Millions of sharks are killed each year to feed the demand for their meat, liver, oils, and fins. Shark fins are worth considerably more money than their meat, which often leads to the disgusting act of “finning” (the practice of removing shark fins and discarding the still-alive shark back into the ocean). This technique is extremely wasteful, and is often associated with overfishing because fishermen can kill more sharks if they only keep the fins than if they are required to keep the whole fish. Recently regulations have been set in place requiring that sharks are caught and brought in with their fins attached, but many are already finding loopholes.
Many commercial fisheries use various forms of netting or longlines to bring in their catch. A technique such as bottom trawling, in which a boat drags a large net across the seabed, is used to catch shrimp and other fish. Because the net is essentially grabbing everything in its path, oftentimes sharks and other species of animals are caught as well. As a result, high numbers of sharks are caught and killed as bycatch. Bycatch is a term that refers to any species caught accidentally while fishing for another species. Any sharks that survive being captured are often stressed or injured when they are thrown back into the water. The situation looks bleak, but it is not too late. Things can be changed, and they must.
There are a number of things that you as an individual can do to help improve the situation for sharks. For starters, buy sustainably. If you purchase seafood, make sure it comes from a sustainable source. There are apps you can download that help keep track of retailers and restaurants that sell sustainable seafood in your area; I use Seafood Watch, which is available on the Google Play Store. Another way to help sharks is to speak out and defend them. Do not support any restaurant or store that sells shark or shark products, and if you witness someone abusing these animals report it. If you’re not sure who to report it to, report it to us. Do not think that just because you are one person that you can’t make a difference, you can. We have a unique opportunity to change the situation for our oceans and the sharks that live in it; all we have to do is take that first step. I will be doing my part to keep you all informed, so check back often for new articles and updates!