The fishermen lunge at a shark they have just pulled out of the water. He can barely move, they have him by the tail. It doesn’t last long either because they slice it open with a knife and steal its precious caudal fin: for the fisherman, a trophy for which someone will pay a lot of money; for the shark, a part of its body without which it cannot survive.
Another man cuts off his pectoral fins, and then his dorsal, and when they are finally amputated, they kick his body into the sea. In case there was any doubt, the bloodiest animal that roams the seas is none other than the human being. Whoever wants to see it, see it.
This atrocity is called finning, finning or ‘shark finning’ and consists, as you may have imagined, of ripping the fins off a shark and throwing its body into the sea. The fishermen claim that the sharks are bulky and that their meat pays poorly, so they prefer to dispose of the rest of the carcass and leave space on the deck for more profitable fish, such as tuna.
Let’s keep going. The shark’s misfortune does not end with a quick death. His body is mutilated, but he is still alive and conscious as he sinks under the sea awaiting inevitable death. Without fins it cannot swim and therefore cannot breathe. He bleeds out He’s drowning. It dies.
Such a cruel and inhumane practice has ended up being banned in some countries. Since 2013, ‘shark finning’ has been illegal in European waters, but not the trade in shark fins. “Shark fins,” says the the european regulation– they cannot be completely cut off before landing” which forces the sharks to arrive at the port –already dead– “with the fins naturally attached to the body”.
After this timid advance, environmental and animal organizations have been pressing to end once and for all a market that kills between 100 and 270 million sharks a year. Later we will see what problems this indiscriminate fishing entails, but first we can celebrate that in 2022 another step in the right direction has been taken: the citizen initiative ‘Stop Finning – Stop The Trade’ has managed to exceed the threshold of one million signatures on time and the The European Commission will have to discuss whether to put an end to a market as unjustifiable as that of shark fins. And, in this debate, Spain will have a lot to say.
No country for sharks
When it comes to animals, Spain leads another list of shame: no country exports as much shark meat as this one. More than 180,000 tons between 2009 and 2019, according to a detailed report by WWF –only available in english– which holds the Spanish State responsible “for the decline of the shark population (…) and the deterioration of the oceans”.
The national fishery, in fact, pockets almost 1 out of every 4 euros of the world market for shark meat. The meat of mako, dogfish and blue shark is used, while the fins – the most valuable – are exported to Asia. And there we have another problem.
Without pretending to be geopolitically transcendental, the rise of the Chinese middle class is bad news for the planet and for animals. It is to China that we sell the meat from the much-maligned macro-farms -Spain is your number one pork supplier– and he is also the one who buys us mink fur at close range.
However, -a plot twist is coming for the better- a excellent campaign of the NGO Wildaid in collaboration with the Chinese government and basketball star Yao Ming has managed to drastically reduce the consumption of shark fin soup in the second world power. In a decade, demand in mainland China has fallen by 80%, according to the same NGO. Not so bad.
But then: why are tens of millions of sharks still being killed every year? This is where the twist of the script for the worse comes in: emerging markets – Hong Kong, Thailand and Macau – have joined the furor over shark fin soup and the demand for shark meat. has skyrocketed in Brazil, Uruguay, UK and Italy.
By parts: the furor is explained because, for example, in the Hong Kong market – which imports half of the world’s shark fins – they can reach 1,250 euros/Kg. These are, unfortunately for the sharks, the star ingredient of the damn shark fin soup, a culturally very popular “delicacy” and a status symbol in Asia that is served in luxury restaurants, weddings and banquets. If you don’t get it or get a racist outburst, change ‘shark fin’ to ‘foie gras’ and reread this paragraph.
Anyway, the list of countries that they have not prohibited the removal of shark fins is a long time, but since they are so profitable, there are those, such as Spain, France and Portugal, who continue to fish millions of sharks both for their liver oil and for their meat. As we said, the great competitive advantage is that it is cheap. The reader will be able to verify this if he enters a bar and compares the price of marinated dogfish, grilled mako or blue shark with garlic and lemon with the price of tuna or salmon tartare.
But what’s wrong with fishing for sharks?
back to basics: The principle that governs speciesism is that we hug dogs and torture little pigs to eat their corpses. Doing it the other way around is a crime and not killing one or the other is radical. This strange moral pyramid, which can only be sustained with a deep-rooted system of propaganda and oppression, makes no sense today.
That said, we will skip the ethical reasoning and generic explanation of why rejection of abuse should concern all species that can suffer pain and suffering – like fish – and focus on the specifics: Shark fishing is a disaster that it can and should be criticized on several fronts.
Go ahead yes, it is difficult to empathize with a fish. For this reason, we would do well to find alternative arguments – which exist – to add supporters. Taking for granted the anti-species argument – respect for the life of other animals – and that the brutality of ‘shark finning’ is unacceptable, it does not seem like a good idea for the balance of ecosystems to eliminate the alpha predator, the one found in the top of the food chain.
And it is that globally we are killing between 100 and 273 million sharks every year. It is difficult to give precise data due to illegal fishing -unreported- and the dubious reliability of some data, but even from an anthropocentric point of view, what we do with sharks is not even economically viable in the long term. The NGO Sea Save He explains it this way: “Sharks play a key role in the health of the ocean ecosystem. They hunt weak members of schools of fish and quickly remove diseased fish before entire fisheries are affected. Today, some shark populations are down 60-70%.”
This massive extinction of species is happening right now with many other animals that are victims of overfishing, but with the shark a very specific aggravating factor is added: they mature sexually late, which translates into a low reproductive rate and, therefore, the we are leading to extinction. And that is not a catastrophic forecast: it’s already happening in the very Mediterranean.
One last argument aside from animal empathy, the conservation of ecosystems and the economic model we want for our oceans. Also for health reasons – that of humans, of course – the European Union should stop exporting shark fins: “Consuming shark fins is dangerous. Cartilage has a high level of mercury and high levels of a powerful neurotoxin that scientists have linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, according to a recent study published in the journal Marine Drugs”.
And don’t let anyone say that sharks have to be killed because they are dangerous. For many traumas that Spielberg created with his damn movie, in 2021 they died eleven people for shark attacks –one of the least lethal animals– while our species killed 100, 200 or 300 million sharks. Let us not forget that here the bad guy in the movie is the human being.