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The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Shark Finning: An Ecosystem in Crisis


According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, from 1970 to 2014, animal populations have decreased by 60% across the globe. Now another animal, one that is ocean-based, faces an issue that, if not dealt with, will wipe out most of its population and send shockwaves across the marine ecosystem.

Sharks, which have fossils dating back 400+ million years ago have seen populations decrease 70% since 1970, according to the British journal, Nature. Although sharks are at the top of the food chain, their biggest threat is not another ocean animal or climate change. Instead, the biggest prey to animal populations like sharks is humans.

Photo courtesy of Mare Nostrum Foundation

Shark finning, which is the practice of cutting off a live shark’s fins and throwing the rest of the animal back into the sea, has been a pressing issue for many activists, researchers, scientists and organizations advocating for these animals.

Many shark species are now considered endangered, and with approximately 100 million sharks being killed annually by humans, the problems that sharks face do not just come from one area. Climate change is a factor, but the practice of shark finning and selling has become the driving force in decreasing shark populations.

From a business and fishing standpoint, “Many fishermen prefer to practice shark finning instead of bringing whole sharks to the market because the fins are far more valuable than the rest of the body, sometimes selling for as much as $500 a pound or $1,100 a kilogram” according to the Smithsonian Ocean website.

Once a shark is caught and brought on board, the fins are cut off. Many of these creatures are then left to endure a slow and painful death after being thrown back into the ocean, eventually bleeding out or becoming food for other creatures. Once the fins are obtained and sold, they are mainly used in a food dish: shark fin soup. By most accounts, the shark fin itself does not hold much flavor and is mainly eaten due to its texture and status symbol.

The high demand for shark fins is usually attributed to Asian countries, however, there is also significantly high demand in the U.S. and in many other countries. In many restaurants across the nation, including the state of California, shark fin soup can still be found. The Animal Welfare Institute currently has an article that was last updated in 2020 showing restaurants in 29 states in the U.S. that currently offer real or imitation shark fin soup. Of the 216 restaurants serving real or imitation shark fin soup, 71 are located in California alone. Nine out of the 71 are noted as serving imitation soup. In Orange County, there are 3 restaurants claiming to be serving imitation shark fin soup, however, the article states that the 3 restaurants are serving real shark fin soup.

Photo courtesy of Mare Nostrum Foundation

As reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “NOAA Fisheries first banned shark finning in the Atlantic Ocean in 1993 because of the role it played in overfishing. Congress extended the ban to any vessel in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone with the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 and Shark Conservation Act of 2010.”

While the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 outlawed both the possession of shark fins and finning of sharks in U.S. waters, the Conservation Act of 2010 helped reinforce conservation measures and required all sharks in the U.S. to be brought ashore with their fins still attached. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2019 makes it illegal to possess, buy, or sell shark fins or any product containing shark fins, except for certain dogfish fins. The bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate. Despite these acts in place, as of 2020, only 14 states have banned shark fin trading, with California being one of these states. The most troublesome issue to stopping shark finning relates mainly to the trade and sale of shark fins.

According to research conducted by members of the Shark Stewards organization, “Loopholes can lead to a misrepresentation of species captured, smuggling of fins, and more sharks killed than actually reported.” Since the trade and business of fins are largely unregulated, the problem persists despite bans on trade being enforced in the U.S. and many other countries globally.

Shark Allies, an organization established in Hawaii and now located in California, is one of the hundreds of organizations fighting for sharks. This organization, which raises awareness on issues sharks are facing, and campaigns against the fin trade, is hoping their efforts will eventually reach all states and many other countries.

While the practice of shark finning and fishing for sharks is a big problem, another issue hinders the work of these organizations: the fishing markets. This issue ultimately relates to money and fisheries themselves, and since these fins and products are worth a considerable amount, there is a market for them. “Fisheries not wanting to understand sharks need to be protected… [choose] siding with commercial industries because commercial industries say ‘there’s a market and we want to sell it and you’re ruining jobs,’” said Stefanie Brendl, founder and executive director of Shark Allies.

While it isn’t likely all shark species will become extinct, many could if things continue this way. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List For Endangered Species states that 33% of shark and ray species face the threat of extinction.

Photo courtesy of Mare Nostrum Foundation

According to Brendl, one shark species going away will not mean that another will take over its role in the ecosystem. Different types of sharks play different roles in the ocean and without them, the oceanic ecosystem has a difficult issue to deal with. “As apex predators, sharks play an important role in the ecosystem by maintaining the species below them in the food chain and serving as an indicator for ocean health. They help remove the weak and the sick as well as keeping the balance with competitors helping to ensure species diversity” according to Oceana, an advocacy organization focused on ocean conservation. Removing sharks from the ecosystem will cause the entire structure to crumble. Without sharks, entire food chains will be put out of order, which will, in turn, cause a decrease in their populations as well.

The National Oceanic Service states that “The coral reef structure buffers shorelines against waves, storms, and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion”. Coral reef fish, which are fish that live in or close to coral reefs, play an important role in maintaining the health of reefs by consuming algae that grow on the bottom. Without sharks working to control populations of fish like the ones living near reefs, coral reefs will then in turn be affected.

Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, higher extinction rates in ocean creatures, food shortages, entire ocean ecosystems collapsing, and more are consequences that will be faced globally should sharks become extinct, according to the IUCN.

With populations for many fish like sharks decreasing, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a foundation that promotes the idea of a circular economy — an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources —, reported in 2017 that by the year 2050, “there could be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean.”

How To Help

Mare Nostrum: Mare Nostrum is a foundation based in Ecuador and its focus is on overfishing, marine pollution, and climate change. Recently, they went on a trip to the Galapagos for a research expedition to better understand Whale Sharks. They have also added prepared letters to send to senators so we can officially end shark finning. Go to their website to volunteer or contact them at Email: [email protected] Phone: +593 98 391 3404


Shark Stewards: Shark Stewards is trying to make sure that sharks do not go extinct. They have a petition you can sign on their website,, to make sure the bill to ban shark finning reaches U.S. Senators. Adopt a shark or contact them on their website to get involved.


Shark allies: Shark Allies is aiming to stop the fin trade globally with a focus on Florida state legislation. They also have a campaign about sharks in Hollywood and how they are poorly portrayed in the media. Get involved by going to their website,, and volunteer.