5 Things to Know About the Shark Fin Trade

Every summer, we are blessed with a full week of watching our favorite “scary” fish swim across our television screens. That’s right folks: it’s Shark Week.

Sharks are the perfect predators and seem untouchable, but humans are hunting them in catastrophic numbers for one key purpose: their fins. As you enjoy Shark Week 2019, here are five things you need to know about the shark fin trade that’s proving day in and day out to be one of these animals’ biggest threats.  

©Animal Welfare Institute

©Animal Welfare Institute

1. Finning happens to live animals. 

The cruel truth about shark finning is hard to swallow, but it is important that we understand the details. Most of the sharks killed in shark-finning hunts aren’t actually dead yet…the process happens to them while they’re still alive. The fins are sliced off of the live shark, and the animal is tossed back into the ocean. At this point, the sharks are no longer able to swim, and die from blood loss, are eaten by other animals, or suffocate (sharks must keep swimming to pass water through their gills). The process is unbelievably inhumane, but is something that is happening by the millions each year. Speaking of precise numbers… 

2. Close to 100 million sharks are slaughtered every year, many of them as a result of the finning trade.

 While establishing actual numbers for sharks killed annually is difficult, data reported in 2013 has given a range of 63 to 273 million sharks per year. The median for this is roughly 100 million sharks. While not all of these are finned, demand for fins remains the driving factor in the capture and intentional slaughter sharks.

3. Multiple states have already banned the sale of shark fins.

 Twelve states in the U.S. have banned the sale of shark fins. However, according to the Animal Welfare Institute, these bans have not stopped the sale of shark fin soup (the most popular item shark fins are used to produce) in 10 of the 12 states. While many may find it surprising that the consumption of this commodity occurs within the United States, law enforcement agencies have a very hard time enforcing bans on the trade.


4. Shark finning is responsible for dangerously lowering the populations of certain shark species. 

The shark fin trade does not focus on one specific species of shark. While this may not necessarily result in one type of shark quickly going extinct, the trade is wreaking havoc on multiple subspecies of sharks throughout our great oceans. Some shark populations are estimated to have been reduced by 60 to 70 percent because of this trade, and even some of the most endangered shark species to date are still vulnerable to being caught and finned.


5. Negative impacts on shark populations have a ripple effect. 

Like I mentioned above, global shark populations are being dramatically impacted by the shark fin trade. Any time there is such a major shift in the ecosystem, damage is done…often to an irreparable extent. The Smithsonian gives a great example:

“For instance, the loss of the smooth hammerhead caused their prey, rays, to increase. The larger ray population now eats more scallops, clams, and other bivalves. This not only hurts the bivalve populations and therefore the biodiversity of the ecosystem; it also harms human fisheries.”

Changing shark populations create a ripple effect that could damage ecosystems across the ocean, and the decreased capacity for sharks to keep trophic systems balanced is put at risk.

Our oceans are important, and so are the sharks that live in them. This Shark Week, look to groups like the Shark Research Institute for ideas on how to best protect these incredible predators.

Kelvey Vander Hart