Our guardians of the sea are in troubled waters

By Seb Jennings

You may have heard about the importance of sharks in our seas. But this week, we are taking a deeper dive with Julian Engel, Senior Analyst at OceanMind and Co-Initiator of the Stop Finning EU initiative. Through this initiative, with passion, and teamwork, they managed to get 1,000,000 signatures needed in order to speak in front of the European Commission to demand a ban on shark finning trade.

Firstly, why are sharks so important to our seas?

There are ecological reasons why we should be very concerned about the decline of sharks, which in the last 70 years have seen a 90% reduction in numbers. They are an important predator, not only as an apex predator, but they are very crucial to keep environments intact. By preying on either species which are dominating the ecosystem or by simply preferring to prey on injured or sick fish, they keep the ecosystem healthy. There have been numerous studies which show the effects of decreasing sharks in ecosystems. They are immensely important in the food chain. Therefore, they have what we in ecology call a top-down effect on the ecosystem.

What would be the worst-case scenario if we were to lose too many sharks?

The decline of sharks is very connected to fishing pressure on the sharks and what we can see is a phase shift. A typical example of a phase shift in the ocean could be a coral reef which bleaches and the corals die. Eventually, the algae grows, and then you can’t go back to corals because now algae dominates the area. With sharks, if we see that phase shift, we see more fish, or jellyfish dominating the ecosystem and outcompeting everything else. Overall, the biodiversity of the ecosystems decreases.

I like the comparison to a football team, if you have a biodiverse ecosystem, you have basically all the players of a football team, right? You have goalkeeper, you have a striker and so on. And then if you imagine a phase shift and suddenly there are only goalkeepers. The team won’t be very successful and score a lot of goals.

The result is less climate adaptability across many ecosystems. For instance, healthy mangroves or coral reefs have a massive impact on the reduction of tsunami waves, which subsequently impact humans. Sharks have been around the earth for 400 million years. Since then, they have been top predators. Everything else below them has adapted to them in one way or another, either directly or indirectly.

What are some of the reasons that we are targeting these sharks? It sounds like there’s every reason to protect them, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

There are two main markets. The meat market, which in the last 20 years is becoming the majority volume wise. I think a lot of readers will never have seen shark meat. Shark meat is probably one of the most mislabelled meat fish products out there. Some studies found protected species like hammerhead sharks in fish and chip sauce in London. Misnaming is a big issue. For instance in Australia, you will find shark being labelled as Flake. In Germany it’s called Schillerlocken after Friedrich Schiller. In the UK you will find it as rock salmon. Because of the low value of shark body meat, mislabelling takes place to help sell the produce.

The second market, and the biggest value by far per tonne is shark fins. These fins are sold to Asia primarily, where it’s considered a status symbol to eat shark fin soup. This highlights why the end product goes to Asia. But Asia isn’t the only offender in the market—the biggest exporter of shark fins in the world is actually the EU. That is why we started the initiative. There is the democratic ability to impact this and to change legislation. And that is what we are aiming for.

For More Visit https://curious.earth/blog/sharks-are-in-troubled-waters/

More To Explore