Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Stop Shark Finning

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In a previous post, I described how impressed I am with a beautiful magazine, ASIAN GEOgraphic. Now I am even more impressed. ASIAN GEOgraphic and its sister journal, Scuba Diver AustralAsia, have jointed forces with ClubScuba, Malaysia Underwater.com and Underwater Studios to begin an online campaign against shark finning. ASIAN Geographic has also launched on online pledge against the consumption of shark fin soup. To join this pledge or find out more about the online campaign, visit www.asiangeo.com.

As I reported in the textbook Wilderness Medicine, the world’s shark populations are in danger from overfishing. Each year, more than 100 million elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays), including 1.6 million metric tons, or approximately 3.5 billion lb of shark, or 10 million elasmobranchs for each human shark-related fatality, are killed in fisheries. Half of this total represents incidental by-catch (sharks caught in fishing nets or on longlines intended for swordfish or tuna). The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that 20 million metric tons of marine wildlife are killed and thrown back into the sea as by-catch. This activity may double the estimated shark mortality figures.

Commercial fishing mortality of sharks in U.S. waters averages 20,000 metric tons (44,092,000 lb) per year. Great declines in shark populations along the east coast of the U.S. have occurred over the past two decades, a trend that is worldwide. Some commercially targeted species have declined by as much as 80%. The most dramatic declines were seen in dusky sharks. Innumerable animals are ground into fertilizer. More than 90% of captured sharks are discarded.

The fishery interest in sharks centers on the fins. These are of great value in the Orient, where they are made into shark fin soup, a traditional dish that signifies high economic status and is reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Interest in fins has also spawned the heinous practice of finning, in which a shark is captured, its fins are sliced off, and then it is returned to the water. Shark-fin soup is sold for upward of $150 U.S. per bowl. The prepared fins themselves may sell for more than $800 per pound. It has been estimated that 350 tons of shark fins may be consumed each year. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas created a ban on shark finning in November 2004, to join the United States, which banned shark finning in the Atlantic Ocean in 1993 and in the Pacific Ocean in 2002, in such a prohibition.

To further imperil shark populations, shark flesh is a major food source in both developed (commonly the fish in European “fish and chips”) and undeveloped (artisinal fisheries) countries. Mako shark flesh is similar to that of swordfish and often serves as a more than adequate culinary substitute. To date, sharks are not farmed, so any sharks captured for any purposed are extracted from wild populations and there is no attempt made to replace them.

Websites where you can find out more about shark finning, shark activities and shark preservation include STOP SHARK FINNING, SHARKWATER, SharkFriends.com, Humane Society International, and the Shark Trust.

photo courtesy of www.stopsharkfinning.net

Preview the 17th Annual WMS Winter Meeting, "Wilderness & Mountain Medicine," which will be held at The Canyons in Park City, Utah, February 20-25, 2009.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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