Finishing the fin trade
Dalhousie student Scott Seamone has started a petition to stop the importation of shark fins into Canada. The fourth-year marine biology student says he’ll to come to you, wherever you are, if you’ll sign it.
“I want to hustle this. This trade makes me sick,” says Seamone, who was born and raised in Halifax.
Shark finning involves cutting the fins off a shark and usually throwing the body back into the ocean while it is still alive. The practice is done primarily to feed the international demand for shark fin soup, a dish served in Chinese restaurants and banquet halls around the world.
While policy changes have been underway in Vancouver and Toronto, there’s been almost no action for shark conservation in the Maritimes.
“I don’t know why no one’s really stepped up and tried to take initiative,” says Seamone. “If it were up to me there would be a complete ban on shark fishing. I don’t think anyone should be able to pull them out of the water.”
Art Gaetan runs Blue Shark Fishing Charters in Nova Scotia’s Eastern Passage. Gatean tags, measures and photographs each shark he catches, and releases them back into the ocean.
“We remove the hook from them and put them back in the water, and then send the info off to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography,” he says.
“The disgusting thing about shark finning,” Gaetan continues, “ is that a lot of the time they’re doing it while the shark is still alive. They’ll kick the shark over to the side of the boat and let it spiral down to the ocean floor, and it’ll stay there for a couple days while it’s eaten alive by the rest of the animals.”
Hong Kong accounts for between 50 and 85 per cent of the shark finning trade. Fishermen and poachers make between $250 and $300 per kilogram of shark fins, and a bowl usually goes for $150 USD.
Gaetan compares it to serving black caviar at a wedding. “It’s a status thing,” he says.
Jillian Smith, a former Dal student who grew up in China, thinks it may be more complicated than that. She says too much blame is being put on poachers and consumers of shark fins.
“[Poachers] are thinking, ‘If I don’t do this, my child could starve to death.’ You don’t need a degree to become a shark finner or to work on a boat. It would be low-educated people who grew up in fishing towns and that’s the only option, that’s all they know,” she says.
“There are so many other issues in China that need to take precedence over shark finning. People are living in poverty. They need work.”
She says the other problem is lack of access to information, including blocked or filtered websites like Facebook and Google.
“You’d have blank web results,” she says. “Here we have freedom and it allows us to spread our concern to other issues like shark finning. Its hard to say what you would be focusing on if you lived in a country with those restrictions.”
According to atlanticsharks.org, it’s estimated that 73 million sharks are killed each year solely for their fins, which accounts for only 5 per cent of the shark’s total body mass. Usually, the rest of the shark body is thrown back into the ocean.
“The important thing about Halifax taking a stand is showing that people care across the country. Whether inland or coastal we all need to stand up and say, ‘Hey, we think this is terrible and we need to stop it,’” says Seamone.