Many shark populations have faced steep declines due to years of exploitation. Their slow reproductive rates make them extremely vulnerable to extinction. The disappearance of sharks - apex predators in many ecosystems - causes dangerous imbalances in marine communities worldwide.
Because of the high commercial value of shark fins and the relatively low value of their meat, fishermen often take only the fins and leave the rest of the body behind - an extremely cruel and wasteful practice. Typically, sharks are finned alive - brought aboard fishing vessels to have their fins sliced off, then thrown back into the sea, where they suffocate, bleed to death, or are eaten by other animals. Appallingly, the animals are usually conscious through much of the ordeal. Shark fins are the main ingredient in shark fin soup, a popular (and pricey) dish in East Asian societies; however it can be found at restaurants throughout the world. As a symbol of prosperity, it is traditionally served on special occasions such as weddings and banquets.
Upwards of 73 millions sharks a year are killed for their fins alone. Approximately 50 million sharks die annually as bycatch in unregulated and indiscriminant longline, gillnet and trawl fisheries. High seas swordfish fisheries in Taiwan, Japan and Spain routinely catch large numbers of sharks as bycatch and then opportunistically take their fins. Shark cartilage, liver oil and meat are also utilized to a lesser degree.
Many countries do not have legal mechanisms in place to properly manage shark fisheries and prevent overfishing; those that do tend to have weak, incomplete, or poorly enforced standards. Although over 100 shark species appear on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, there exist trade restrictions on the body parts of only three species - basking, great white and whale sharks, which are covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
AWI is leading an effort to compel restaurants in the U.S. that currently serve shark fin soup to cease doing so because of the cruelty of shark finning and the fragility of shark populations. Read more about AWI's shark fin campaigns, both internationally and in the US, or view a list of restaurants in your area that offer shark fin soup.