Shark vs. Human: Who Is More Dangerous?

Photo by Andy Murch
Photo by Andy Murch

Washington, DC—As Shark Week kicks off this week, more than 200 restaurants across the United States and Canada are exacerbating the rapid decline in shark species by continuing to serve an expensive soup made from their butchered fins.

According to an online database maintained by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), many of these restaurants continue to offer shark fin soup, a traditional East Asian dish associated with banquets and celebrations, despite bans on shark products in more than a dozen US states and territories, and a recent Canadian law prohibiting the import and export of shark fins.

For the second year, California continues to lead the United States in the number of restaurants offering shark fin products, despite a 2013 state law that prohibits the possession, sale, trade, or distribution of shark fins. New York, which passed a similar ban in 2014, had the second-highest number of restaurants serving shark fin.

AWI regularly engages with law enforcement officials in states with shark fin sales bans to inform them of restaurants that, based on the nonprofit’s research, are violating the law.

Human actions, such as shark finning and overfishing, have caused some shark species’ populations to decline more than 90 percent over just a few generations. Today, a quarter of all shark and ray species are listed as threatened or endangered. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins alone. Shark attacks against humans, by contrast, are exceedingly rare. There were 41 shark attacks against humans in the United States all of last year, none of which were fatal.

Shark finning is also exceedingly cruel. It involves cutting off a shark’s fins—often while the shark is still alive—and throwing the mutilated body in the ocean, where the helplessly immobile shark will suffocate, bleed to death, or succumb to an attack by another predator. Shark finning is prohibited in federal waters, but there is currently no nationwide ban on the sale of shark fins. Thirteen states and three US territories have passed bans to stem the shark fin trade within their jurisdictions, however.

Last year, Canada enacted a ban on shark finning and on the import and export of shark fins that aren’t naturally attached to the rest of the shark, becoming the first G20 nation to do so. This year, AWI published its first-ever directory of 108 Canadian restaurants serving shark fin. British Columbia and Ontario were tied for having the highest number of restaurants serving shark fin (48).

While Canada’s ban represents a significant step forward in protecting sharks, it does not cover the sale, possession, or distribution of shark fins once they are in the country. Fins from sharks who are landed legally with their fins intact (as well as illegally obtained fins that have been brought in undetected) can still be sold across Canada, making their way into shark fin soup.

Over time, many restaurants in Canada are expected to end the sale of shark fin products as fins become harder to source. AWI will continue to conduct annual audits to monitor the situation.

“Maintaining a robust population of sharks at the top of the food chain is crucial to biodiversity,” said AWI President Cathy Liss. “Without sharks, the health and productivity of our oceans—and the human livelihoods that depend on them—are at risk. We need sharks in our oceans—not their fins in our bowls. ”

Legislation banning the sales of shark fins is pending in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. A bill in Florida is awaiting the governor’s signature.

AWI also endorses the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2019, which would make it illegal “to possess, buy, or sell shark fins or any product containing shark fins.” The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in November and is awaiting consideration in the Senate. This federal legislation would enhance existing state bans by preventing shark fins from entering those markets via interstate commerce.

Media Contact Information

Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, [email protected]