hammerhead shark photo hammerhead shark photo Hammerhead shark populations have been reduced by 99 percent in the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo: frantisekhojdysz / Shutterstock)

Disappearing sharks are a global concern

Israel banned shark finning and shark fishing 34 years ago. Now other nations are catching up.

Sharks are an ancient apex predator vital to the health of marine ecosystems and global oxygen production. They keep fish populations in check and promote biodiversity, allowing oceans to continue to produce the majority of the planet’s oxygen.

But global shark populations have dipped to alarming levels in recent years. As a result, many nations are now taking steps to conserve shark populations by regulating shark fishing and outlawing the practice of shark finning (removing shark fins while the remainder of the living shark is discarded in the ocean).

Israel was the first nation to ban shark fishing and shark finning in its territorial waters in 1980. “They knew that in the same way you can’t clear-cut the forest, you can’t shark fin,” Ralph Collier, founder and president of the Shark Research Committee, told From the Grapevine.

The United States began implementing shark-management programs more than a decade ago. The Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 prohibits shark finning by any person under U.S. jurisdiction; the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 requires, with limited exceptions, that all sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached. The act further requires the U.S. to urge international fishery management organizations to adopt shark conservation measures, including prohibiting removal of shark fins at sea.

tiger shark underwaterTiger sharks are frequent targets of the shark-fin trade. (Photo: Michael Bogner/Shutterstock)

The patchwork of countries regulating shark fishing and finning is growing, but enforcement remains a challenge. Shark populations in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea have suffered tremendously because shark finning remains important to the economies of poorer nations in the region, said Ralf Sonntag, director of the Germany office of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Yemen, for example, currently has no laws on the books protecting sharks. It is also one of the poorest nations in the region and one of few countries that consume shark domestically.

Another problem is that many nations in the region that have enacted laws to protect sharks do not have the resources to enforce them.

“Poor countries are always slower in taking action in any field of environmental conservation. Their primary focus is survival, nutrition, money,” said Veerle Roelandt, co-founder of The Global Shark Conservation Initiative and director of shark programs at the Sea Save Foundation.

“It’s all economic,” Collier said. “Shark finning pays a lot of money because there’s a big demand for them in Asia.”

Fortunately, other nations and regional authorities around the world are taking action to conserve shark populations. The European Union, for instance, last year banned finning in EU waters and by EU vessels worldwide. That action points to a growing trend of recognizing the long-term environmental consequences of human actions.

"The extinction of majestic species like the hammerhead shark or the manta ray would cause a substantial loss to our marine ecosystems whose further ecological consequences are unpredictable," said Sonntag.

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Disappearing sharks are a global concern
Israel banned shark finning and shark fishing 34 years ago. Now other nations are catching up.