By Sara Amundson
Every year, fins from as many as 73 million sharks circulate throughout the world in a complex international market. They are the key ingredient in shark fin soup, a luxury dish considered a status symbol in some Asian cuisines.
The global trade in shark fins is contributing to a crisis among shark populations worldwide. Sharks are being killed 30 percent faster than they can reproduce, and the fin trade is one of the main culprits. Up to one-quarter of all species of sharks and their relatives are at risk of extinction. Some shark populations have declined by nearly 90 percent in recent decades. The disappearance of sharks can harm fragile ocean ecosystems, because as top predators, sharks help balance the populations of species below them in the food chain.
Additionally, many of the fins traded are obtained through the brutal, inhumane practice known as finning, in which fishers at sea catch sharks, slice off their fins and throw the animals — usually still alive — back into the water. Unable to swim without their fins, the sharks drown, bleed to death or are eaten alive by other fish. Because space on boats is limited and fins are by far the most valuable part of the shark, fishers have an incentive to use this cruel method to get fins.
However, the tide is turning against the shark fin trade.
In November 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives issued a resounding bipartisan "no" to this cruel practice, voting 310 to 107 to pass a bill banning commercial trade of shark fins and products derived from shark fins in the U.S. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, led by Representatives Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas), would prohibit all purchase, sale and possession for commercial purposes of these parts and products. The legislation builds on previous laws passed by Congress — the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 and the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 — which banned the act of shark finning in U.S. waters and the transport on U.S.-flagged vessels of shark fins not naturally attached to a shark carcass.The action has now moved to the U.S. Senate, where a third of the members have sponsored a parallel bill, S. 877, introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia). Already the Senate Commerce Committee has cleared this bill for potential floor action.
States are also taking up the fight. In January, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law that bans the sale and trade of shark fins in the Garden State. The state's general assembly had approved the bill by a vote of 54 to 19, and the state's senate passed its version of the bill by a vote of 33 to 6. These vote tallies reflect the will of the state's constituents: In a recent survey, a majority of New Jersey voters said they would support a prohibition on the sale, possession and trade of shark fins.
New Jersey now joins 13 other states, including all of its coastal neighbors, and three U.S. territories that have passed legislation to ban or limit the sale of shark fins — American Samoa, California, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.
The current to stop the shark fin trade is also flowing internationally. In June 2019, Canada, the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia, passed a bill that includes measures to prohibit that country's trade in shark fins as well as the act of finning in Canadian waters. Worldwide, nearly 60 airlines and container shipping companies — including Air China, Eastern Air Logistics (the parent company of four major Chinese airlines) and Maersk, the world's largest shipping line — have banned the transport of shark fins. Many high-end restaurants and hotel chains in Asia have also stopped serving shark fin soup. Demand for the soup is declining but not quickly enough to save sharks on its own.
While finning in U.S. waters is already prohibited, current law is not enough because once shark fins are on land, they can be sold. Furthermore, U.S. participation in the global fin market continues to fuel the practice in places that lack shark-finning bans or adequate shark management and conservation policies.
It is impossible to guarantee that shark fins are humanely and sustainably sourced. That is because once a fin is detached, it is impossible to know where it was obtained, or whether it was sliced off a shark at sea or removed after the shark was brought to shore. It is also difficult to determine the species of the shark. For the most part, shark fins sold in the U.S. do not come from U.S. fishers. Because of this, fins sold here can come from sharks that were finned, or from endangered or threatened shark species.
Our role is magnified by the fact that the U.S. is a major transit hub for international shark fin shipments. Latin America is one of the most significant shark fin-producing regions, and many of these countries transport shark fins through U.S. ports. Some Latin American nations ship as much as one-third to one-half of all their shark fin exports through the U.S. In fact, on February 3, almost 1,400 pounds of dried shark fins worth around $1 million were found by wildlife inspectors in Miami. The shipment is believed to have originated in South America and was likely headed to Asia.
Still, banning the shark fin trade in the United States has its opponents. They argue that U.S. shark fisheries are already well managed. In reality, however, fewer than 20 percent of U.S. shark stocks are considered sustainable. They also argue that it is wasteful for fishers to land a shark and not be able to sell its fins. By that standard, not selling the ivory from a dead elephant is wasteful, too — but as a nation, we have decided that the broad well-being of all elephants supersedes that pernicious use of their tusks.
Fishing industry advocates claim that banning the fin trade would have harmful economic impacts. The truth is, though, that sharks are worth much more alive than dead. In 2016, shark-related diving in Florida produced more than $221 million in revenues and more than 3,700 jobs. Moreover, fishers would still be able to sell the meat and other products from the sharks they land. In states where the shark fin trade has been banned, there is no evidence of negative impacts to the commercial fishing industry.
Finally, some believe we can address the shark crisis not by changing our own practices, but simply by requiring other countries to improve their shark fishing methods. The latter is an unrealistic goal. The low percentage of U.S. shark stocks known to be sustainable underscores how difficult fisheries are to manage, even here in one of the world's richest and most technologically advanced nations. Additionally, when the U.S. leads, other countries follow. After we banned commercial trade in ivory, many other nations followed suit, including China, the European Union and Australia.
Simply put, the U.S. must remove itself from the cruel and ecologically damaging global shark fin trade. Americans overwhelmingly oppose it, and we are in a position to set an example for the rest of the world.
Join the wave for a U.S. shark fin ban. Call your two U.S. senators and ask them to support S. 877, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act.
Sharks are worth more alive than in a bowl of soup.
Sara Amundson is the president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the 501(c)4 legislative and political organization affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States. In this capacity, she manages political and legislative activity for the organization. She has testified before the U.S. Congress and in various state legislatures on a variety of animal protection legislation.
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In a news release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the shark fins were hidden in 18 boxes. The dried fins arrived from South America and were likely headed to Asia, the AP reported.
Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asia, especially in China. To meet the demand for the coveted dish, smugglers kill tens of millions of sharks every year, cutting the fin from a live shark, according to conservation groups, as the AP reported.
The practice of shark finning is extremely wasteful and cruel. After the fin is cut off from the live shark, the rest of the shark is discarded. The practice has been a federal crime in the U.S. since 2000, according to the Miami Herald.
"The goal of this seizure is to protect these species while deterring trackers from using US ports as viable routes in the illegal shark fin trade," Christina Meister, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said as the Miami Herald reported.
An international agreement between governments around the world is aimed to protect vulnerable animals and plants. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) protects 12 species of sharks, which are included in Appendix II of CITES, according to CNN.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
"The shipment violated the Lacey Act and included CITES listed species," Gavin Shire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chief of Public Affairs, told CNN. "We are limited to what we can say about this as it is an ongoing case."
While it is illegal in the U.S. to cut off a fin from a live shark and discard the rest of the animal, it is not illegal to traffic or trade shark fins in the U.S.
"The recent seizure of more than 1,000 pounds of shark fins in Miami from potentially protected species demonstrates why we need a federal shark fin ban," said Ariana Spawn, an ocean advocate at the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana, as CNN reported. She urged the Senate to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (S.877), which would ban the trade of fins nationwide.
The House of Representatives passed the bill in November of 2019. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) sponsored it in the Senate in December. The bill is now on the Senate's legislative calendar, but at the mercy of Mitch McConnell's decisions to set the legislative agenda. The bill, as it is written, makes it illegal to possess, buy, sell, or transport shark fins or any product containing shark fins, except for certain dogfish fins carries. Illegal trading in shark fins would carry a maximum civil penalty for each violation of $100,000, or the fair market value of the shark fins involved, whichever is greater, according to the bill.
The shark fin soup trade has decimated shark populations. According to a 2018 study, shark populations such as hammerhead and oceanic whitetip have declined by more than 90 percent. Furthermore, nearly 60 percent of shark species are now threatened, as CNN reported.
No arrests were made for yesterday's seizure in Miami. "Further investigation is pending," said Meister, as the Miami Herald reported.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
On Sept. 22, local authorities from the Central African island state of São Tomé and Príncipe boarded the Senegalese-flagged, but Spanish-linked, long-line fishing vessel Vema in a joint operation with Sea Shepherd marine conservationists and Gabonese law enforcement officers called Operation Albacore III.
Although the long-liner was licensed to fish for "tuna and similar species," inspections carried out by São Toméan authorities working on board the Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker revealed their fish holds were solely filled with sharks, predominantly blue sharks that are classified as "near-threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Fishing line tracers (or snoods), which are the monofilament segments that support the fishing hooks, were reinforced with steel wire, thereby underlining the suspicion that the targeted species of the Vema was mainly sharks, not tuna. Steel snoods are used to prevent sharks from biting through the fishing line to escape.
Fish on board were also found gutted and processed, which is a violation of São Toméan fisheries regulations when advance approval has not been sought, which the Vema did not obtain.
Approximately two tons of sharks—including shark fins severed from their corresponding torsos—were discovered by inspectors, a fraction of what would have been uncovered had the Vema not recently returned to São Toméan waters from Walvis Bay, Namibia, a port commonly used for offloading shark fins.
Vema fishing for sharksSea Shepherd Global
The arrest of the Vema is the fourth shark-finning bust carried out over the past two years, three of which were the direct result of joint operations between São Tomé and Príncipe and Gabon, with assistance by Sea Shepherd ships and crew.
In August 2016, São Toméan authorities, again operating on board Sea Shepherd's Bob Barker, arrested a Spanish long-line fishing vessel, the Alemar Primero. On board the Alemar Primero were 87 tons of sharks and shark fins. The EU Directorate-General of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG Mare) decided not to pursue charges of violating the European Union Finning Ban, despite complaints lodged by the São Toméan fisheries department.
In October 2017, the São Toméan fisheries department issued a Notice of Violation of Fisheries Rules to another Spanish ship owner, as well as a request to the European Commission to investigate an additional violation of the European Union Finning Ban, this time by a Spanish long-line fishing vessel, the Baz.
On Sept. 12th, 2018, one week prior to the arrival of the Bob Barker in the waters of São Tomé and Príncipe, the Taiwanese-flagged Shang Fu was arrested by São Toméan Coast Guard with assistance from the Portuguese Navy.
Shark species are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they're slow to grow, late to mature and breed small numbers of offspring.
São Toméan fisheries regulations that prohibit processing of sharks at-sea and the European Union Finning Ban are existing conservation measures that ensure shark bodies are not discarded at sea to make room for the more valuable shark fins, therefore allowing far more sharks to be killed. Sharks are being killed in increasingly large numbers to meet a demand for fins to make shark fin soup.
Sea Shepherd works with authorities in African coastal states in unique joint patrols that allow shark finning operations to be uncovered through critical boardings and inspections at sea.
"Given how sensitive shark species are to overfishing, coupled with the fact that 15 percent of shark species in the Atlantic are now endangered, it is alarming that industrial fishing vessels, many from Europe, continue to massacre sharks under the guise of tuna licenses," said Sea Shepherd director of campaigns Peter Hammarstedt. "These trojan horse fishing licenses deliberately mislead African coastal states as fishing vessels [and] slaughter sharks with reckless abandon. Sea Shepherd applauds the São Toméan authorities for working together with Gabon and Sea Shepherd to bring African marine wildlife poachers to justice."
Sea Shepherd Uncovers Huge Shipments of #Shark Fins https://t.co/I1qKbFaTLG @seashepherd @CaptPaulWatson @acousteau @Greenpeace @Oceana— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1488980429.0
Maxim's said it phased out the controversial product in 2017 but undercover investigators with the wildlife conservation charity WildAid found that the eatery still offers shark fin on a secret "premium" menu, the South China Morning Post reported.
Now, activist groups are calling on the coffee giant to break its 18-year partnership with Coffee Concepts (HK) Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Maxim's Caterers Limited.
In a letter to Starbucks executives last month, WildAid urged the company to end its relationship with Maxim's Caterers ahead of its upcoming expansion in China.
"Maxim's seemingly contradictory status as Hong Kong's largest retailer of shark fin soup casts a stain on Starbucks' reputation," the letter stated, as quoted by Hong Kong Free Press. "[We] sincerely urge Starbucks to call on its Hong Kong licensee Maxim's Caterers Limited, to halt all cruel, dirty, unsustainable, and often illegal shark fin trade with immediate effect."
Shark fin soup is mostly served in Chinese banquet menus as a symbol of prosperity and for its supposed health benefits. But the shark fin trade poses a danger to vulnerable shark species. More than 70 million sharks are killed each year and a quarter of species are threatened with extinction, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
WildAid did not appear impressed with Starbucks' response to their letter, tweeting on Tuesday "we got the brush off from Starbucks customer service about two weeks ago. Since then, nothing."
@Laughhon @Starbucks Thanks, Susie! Please read our letter to @Starbucks founder Howard Schultz and CEO Kevin Johns… https://t.co/PNxxAeQpdt— WildAid Hong Kong (@WildAid Hong Kong)1528812395.0
Gary Stokes, Asia director for Sea Shepherd Global, also spoke out against the partnership.
"The shark fin industry is not limited to just the shark fin traders, but spans from the fisherman who killed the shark all the way to the restaurants that serve shark's fin soup," he said in a statement. "By licensing Starbucks' brand to Maxim's Caterers Limited who openly sell shark's fin on their menus, Starbucks has partnered with the shark fin trade itself."
Despite the protests, Maxim's Caterers told Hong Kong Free Press on Thursday that they will continue to sell shark fin products "upon request" at their Hong Kong restaurants. They also claimed to only use shark fins from Blue Sharks—a "Lower Risk-Near Threatened" species.
"We have stringent sourcing process, and all suppliers must provide legal shark fin import documentations that met regulatory requirements. We are also the first Chinese chain restaurant to proactively conduct independent DNA testing on shark fin to ensure that the supply is from the lower risk species," they told the publication.
@ADMCF_Wildlife Here's Maxim's #SecretSharkFinMenu at Hoi Yat Heen in the Harbour Grand Hotel. https://t.co/p8AobB1vq4— WildAid Hong Kong (@WildAid Hong Kong)1528846691.0
In their press release, Sea Shepherd noted that Starbucks' environmental mission statement includes commitments such as "understanding of environmental issues and sharing information with our partners," "striving to buy, sell and use environmentally friendly products," and "encouraging all partners to share in our mission."
Stokes commented, "None of the above points in the mission statement are in line with or justify selling shark fin soup. With between 100-200 million sharks being killed annually, no business can claim that they are environmentally friendly or responsible when they sell shark fin soup."
"Starbucks needs to demand that Maxim's Caterers Limited drop shark fin from their menus across their group or cancel their license to operate Starbucks in Asia. Tarnishing the brand of Starbucks should not be an option, and Starbucks customers deserve to be informed if the mission statement has changed," Stokes concluded.
EcoWatch has reached out to Starbucks for comment.
Endangered Whale Shark Fins Found in Airlines Shipment https://t.co/4mvQ62q0rB @seashepherd #SharkFin @WWF @peta… https://t.co/ojfEdSqB3m— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1527697970.0
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The fins from the endangered species were hidden within legal fins in a 989 kilogram (approximately 2,180 pound) shipment that traveled from Colombo, Sri Lanka through Singapore to Hong Kong, which is one of the largest shark fin trading centers in the world, AFP reported.
Singapore Airlines, which bans the shipment of shark fins, said in an email statement Wednesday reported by Reuters that the shipment had slipped past the airline's notice because it was labeled "Dry Seafood."
"Singapore Airlines are yet another victim of these shark fin smugglers, who deceived the airline by declaring the shipment as 'dried seafood' to skirt the airline's internal booking checks," Asia director for Sea Shepherd Global Gary Stokes told AFP.
According to Reuters, Stokes discovered the endangered fins hidden in the shipment.
Singapore Airlines has since blacklisted the shipper and alerted employees to check any other shipments labeled "dry seafood."
Hong Kong allows the import of shark fins, which are served in a jelly-like soup believed to have health benefits. Most of the fins imported to Hong Kong are then sent on to mainland China, according to AFP. Fins from species on the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species are supposed to be accompanied by a special permit, Reuters reported.
Activists have succeeding in halving the number of shark fins entering Hong Kong in the past 10 years, but the trade still poses a danger to vulnerable shark species.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than 70 million sharks are killed each year and a quarter of species are threatened with extinction.
The latest discovery comes a little over a year after a three-month investigation by Sea Shepherd revealed that shark fins from endangered species like hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks were entering Hong Kong despite bans imposed by shipping lines and airline cargo companies.
Smugglers used similar tactics of mislabeling shipments as "seafood," "dried seafood" or "dried goods" to bypass bans by Maersk, Virgin and Cathay Pacific. At the time, all three companies pledged to work with Sea Shepherd to combat smuggling.
Maersk, the world's largest shipping company, also became the first to ban shark fin cargo in 2010. Cathay Pacific was the first airline to ban unsustainable shark products in 2012, and banned shark fins altogether in 2016.
Now, more than 30 airlines and nearly 20 shipping lines have implemented similar bans, Alex Hofford of WildAid said.
About 92 percent of shark fins enter Hong Kong by sea and 8 percent by plane.
Unprecedented Rescue Operation': Sea Shepherd Saves 25 Critically Endangered #Totoabas at the Height of Spawning Se… https://t.co/uWff5XlA3x— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1522676526.0
'Unprecedented Rescue Operation': Sea Shepherd Saves 25 Critically Endangered Totoabas at the Height of Spawning Season
At 7:45 p.m. PST Monday, the Sea Shepherd vessel M/V SHARPIE came upon an illegal gillnet within the Vaquita Refuge in the Northern Sea of Cortez, Mexico. The gillnet was entangled in a longline. As the ship's crew began to separate the illegal fishing gear, they noticed live totoaba bass in the net, embarking on an unprecedented rescue operation.
It is the height of totoaba bass spawning season in the Upper Gulf of California, when the endangered fish migrate directly to an area inhabited by the vaquita porpoise. The vaquita is currently the most endangered marine mammal in the world, and continues to be threatened as bycatch in the illegal totoaba trade.
Tensions are rising in the Upper Gulf of California. Poachers have become more aggressive towards Sea Shepherd vessels, using firearms to shoot down drones and incendiary objects to intimidate the crew. Thanks to the addition of armed Enforcement Agents, and an emboldened pact with Mexico's Environment and Fisheries Ministries, Federal Environmental Attorney's Office and Federal Police, security has drastically improved, allowing Sea Shepherd to continue its important work protecting the Vaquita Refuge.
The totoaba bass is highly sought after due to its valuable swim bladder. Much like shark fins or rhino horns, totoaba bladders are sold in Asian markets as medicinal quackery. One totoaba bladder can sell for upwards of $10,000 in Asia.
Although poachers in the Gulf of California see only a fraction of the street price, they do well by local standards, which has consequently pushed the vaquita porpoise to the brink of extinction as a tragic side effect.
All seemed normal the evening of March 25 as the Sea Shepherd M/V Sharpie patrolled the protected vaquita area looking for illegal activity. The ship's captain, Fanch Martin from France, spotted a net by deciphering the ship's sonar data, a new method developed by Sea Shepherd in recent months.
"It was a challenge to maintain the ship's position in the strong current while the crew pulled the net and saved the fish quickly and efficiently, while at the same time keeping the longline tight enough so it would not entangle my propeller," said Captain Fanch, adding, "The coordination of the crew and the authorities on board was intense. Everyone was involved and focused—it was an all hands on deck moment, and the crew did an amazing job, with the extraordinary outcome of saving every single totoaba in that net; this has never happened before."
The M/V Sharpie's bosun, Willie Hatfield, who coordinated the deck activities stated, "This is a quintessential moment for Operation Milagro, saving a whole school of spawning critically endangered totoaba at once means so much." After the two intense hours it took to save all the fish and remove the illegal fishing gear from the Sea of Cortez, he added. "As we were leaving, we saw a skiff coming to retrieve the net.
"Those fish were five minutes away from death and we saved them—it was a miracle."
Sea Shepherd operates two former Island Class U.S. Coast Patrol ships in the area protecting the vaquita as part of Operation Milagro IV, the M/V Sharpie and M/V Farley Mowat. Each ship hosts five enforcement officers from the government of Mexico on board, with the ability to make arrests, prevent poaching in the Refuge and assure the proper disposal of dead totoaba fish. The officers were essential in saving the totoaba, as they tirelessly helped the Sea Shepherd crew, both in keeping the fish alive while being freed from the net, and ensuring the vessel's safety from armed poachers.
To date, Sea Shepherd has removed 596 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the Sea of Cortez since starting its effort to protect the vaquita porpoise in 2015, saving 2661 animals in the process. That accounts for more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) of nets removed, which is the distance from Earth to outer space and the height of nine Everest mountains. Sea Shepherd works with members of its partner network to ensure these illegal nets will be recycled responsibly and never find their way back into the ocean.
Notorious Toothfish Poacher Arrested by Liberian Coast Guard, Assisted by Sea Shepherd https://t.co/4pFoQ8Q1xc… https://t.co/TB4JJUSd7B— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521652939.0
By Zachary Toliver
Sometimes humans forget that animals have feelings, too, and cause them to suffer. Just consider some Florida beachgoers who were filmed taking photos of and selfies with an injured hammerhead shark, who an expert says most likely died after the incident.
On a beach near West Palm Beach, Florida, a group of people pulled a shark out of the water in an attempt to remove a fish hook from a fin. This was their first mistake, as sharks, and especially their gills, should always be kept in the water. But the incident wasn't over yet.
Not understanding sharks' needs or not considering this one's well-being, the crowd unfortunately turned the event into a photo op. Shark activist and educator Leigh Cobb, who filmed the incident, is heard in her video screaming at the people to put the animal back in the water. Eventually, they did push the shark back into the ocean but not before likely doing some deadly damage.
"[Great hammerhead sharks] don't survive after being taken out of the water," Cobb told ABC News. She noted that high stress levels (which could result from having a crowd of people tugging at the shark) can cause an irreversible lactic acid buildup—which often leads to death.
"[That shark] will die within two weeks," she said. "Absolutely no doubt about it."
Given that hammerheads rarely come this close to shore, it's suspected that the shark was lured in with fish blood—known as "chumming." Because of human activities like overfishing and the shark fin soup industry, hammerhead sharks are an endangered species. The last thing they need is the stress of being used in selfies.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is aware of the video and has asked for any information about the incident.
Animals Are Not Ours to Use as Props!
If there's any chance that your photo is going to hurt a living being, it's not worth taking it. Yet time and time again, we've seen animals routinely injured, exploited, and killed because of human vanity. Turtles have been beaten by crowds, sharks have been dragged from the ocean to die, and baby tigers are torn away from their mothers—just so that people can take photos with them.
Animals are not selfie props. Sea turtle recovering after beaten by selfie-taking tourists. https://t.co/qdF3YzJL5W https://t.co/cbx7inpalK— PETA (@PETA)1467125104.0
All these victims were thinking, feeling individuals who, just as we would be, were terrified when intruders pulled them from their homes and physically abused them—sometimes to death.
What You Can Do
Help us stop this trend of deadly ignorance by sharing this story with your friends, family and social media followers. Let them know that animals' lives are worth so much more than Instagram likes or heart reactions.
Remember, if you see something, say something. If you ever witness someone endanger or mistreat an animal, call the police immediately. If the authorities don't respond, contact PETA for help.
"Species are like a house of cards, you can't just sort of take one card out of the deck and not expect the deck to crumble," said Dr. Michael Novacek, curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, in this reality-driven video by Racing Extinction.
As the video above clearly shows, human activity is directly linked to mass extinction of the world's most endangered species.
Watch as renowned film director and co-founder of Oceanic Preservation Society, Louie Psihoyos, explains how "there's this incredible web where we're all connected, and when we start to lose these linchpin species, the environment starts to fail."
Shark fins have been discovered on two Chinese fishing vessels during a joint surveillance conducted by Greenpeace and Guinean fishery authorities. One of the vessels also had illegally altered fishing nets on board, while a third Chinese vessel was caught using illegal nets and fishing for species outside of its license. The two vessels with shark fins on board have been fined $264,787.50 each, while the third vessel has been fined $370,702.50. The catches from all of the vessels have been seized by Guinean authorities.
In addition to the shark fins, Greenpeace also found numerous carcasses of sharks including hammerheads, an endangered species, along with manta rays on board several vessels.
"What we're seeing here is an utter lack of respect for West African fishing laws," said Ahmed Diame, Greenpeace Africa oceans campaigner. "It also shows that local laws need to be strengthened to meet international standards where endangered sharks are no longer a legal catch. That is why we are recommending that coastal states improve their monitoring capacity and advocating for local legislation to protect marine life and livelihoods of local fishing communities."
In total, Greenpeace and local officials inspected and boarded 12 vessels during their joint surveillance this past week. The vessels included nine Chinese, one Korean and two Guinean-flagged. On one of the Chinese vessels, a letter was found issued by China's distant water fishing association on March 10, reminding Chinese fishing vessels to fish legally and be cooperative with authorities' inspections.
"We thought the letter would have deterred Chinese fishing vessels from illegal activities during the period of the joint patrols, but apparently this was not the case," said Pavel Klinckhamers, campaign leader on board the Esperanza. "Several fishing vessels belonging to Chinese companies continued their illegal fishing practices, despite the warning. This shows the complete disregard for local laws by these companies, while they should behave as responsible guests in these waters."
Currently, 41 vessels are licensed to operate in Guinean waters. Eighty-five percent of the vessels are Chinese owned.
Last month, Greenpeace and Guinea Bissau authorities arrested four fishing vessels after they discovered multiple fishing infringements. The vessels are being investigated by local authorities for illegal transshipment at sea, failure to display readable names on the vessels, non-payment of fines and the use of illegal fishing equipment.
Greenpeace is demanding that West African governments take responsibility and work together to manage both foreign and local fishing activities in their waters so resources can be distributed fairly and sustainably and to ensure a prosperous future for local communities and people living along the shores of West Africa.
Despite a worldwide ban on the transportation of shark fins by major shipping carriers, a three-month investigation by Sea Shepherd Global—as part of their global shark defense campaign Operation Apex Harmony—has verified that large shipments of shark fin are still arriving in Hong Kong on airlines and shipping lines that have made "No Shark Fin" carriage ban commitments.
Sharks are in big trouble around the world, with some populations crashing by more than 90 percent. Some species, such as the hammerhead shark, are facing a very real threat of extinction.
A growing consortium of major shipping lines, airlines and non-governmental organization's met with senior members of Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department and Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department last Friday to brief them on the Sea Shepherd Global investigation findings and discuss matters relating to wildlife crime. Top of the agenda was how to prevent products from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species—listed endangered species from being unknowingly shipped. These included many types of vulnerable and endangered shark fin found in the Hong Kong shark fin trade, such as hammerhead shark and oceanic whitetip shark.
[email protected] Is Not an Enemy of #Sharks by @CaptPaulWatson https://t.co/JQ8a5PWE1D @seashepherd @RichardBranson @acousteau @Surfrider @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1488235966.0
A History of the Shark Fin Transport Bans
Since 2010, international wildlife conservation groups have been focusing on the shark fin supply chain by lobbying both airlines and shipping lines to ban the transport of shark fins and shark products. Yet the laundering of fins taken from illegal species of sharks inside consignments of fins from legal yet unsustainably-fished shark species is still rife. To their credit, Maersk, the world's largest shipping line, led the way as the first company to implement a worldwide ban on shark fin carriage in 2010, with 16 of the world's leading container shipping lines soon following their example.
"Maersk Line is committed to enforcing our policy not to carry sharks fin products on our ships. It is frustrating that some traders seemingly mis-declare the cargo they intend to ship with us in order to try to get around the restrictions we have put in place. However, we are grateful to Sea Shepherd for their investigative work to highlight this problem and we are working with Sea Shepherd and other NGOs as well as with HK Customs and other stakeholders to tighten our procedures to ensure the ban we place on carriage of shark fin is effective in the future," said Tim Smith, chairman and chief representative of the North Asia region, Maersk.
Around 92 percent of shark fins entering Hong Kong arrive via sea freight, while the remaining 8 percent arrive via air cargo. Having worked with a number of locally and internationally respected conservation specialists since 2010, the Hong Kong-based carrier Cathay Pacific became the first airline to place an initial ban on un-sustainable shark and shark products, including shark's fin, in September 2012, extending to a full ban on shark's fin in June 2016.
"As a signatory to the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce Buckingham Palace Declaration, Cathay Pacific is committed to not knowingly facilitate or tolerate the carriage of illegal wildlife products. This is an important initiative by Sea Shepherd and we will support it as much as we can to close out any loopholes that affect the effectiveness of our embargo policies," said Evelyn Chan, head of Environmental Affairs at Cathay Pacific Airways.
The airlines campaign was led by Alex Hofford, now of WildAid Hong Kong and supported by around 30 global marine conservation and animal welfare groups, including Sea Shepherd and the World Wildlife Fund.
Evidence the Ban Hasn't Been Working
As with most environmental issues, the first challenge is to change the rules. But the second and much harder challenge is to enforce those rules. Despite recent media claims that the trade is down overall, Sea Shepherd Global began its investigation after seeing evidence of large shipments of shark fins arriving in Hong Kong's Sheung Wan district. "The months leading up to Chinese New Year are always the busiest months for the shark fin traders as they seek to fulfill the demand of the mainland Chinese market during the festive holiday," said Gary Stokes, Sea Shepherd Global's South East Asia director.
The three-month long investigation documented large shipments arriving by carriers who have pledged to ban the transport of shark fins, including two 45-foot containers full of shark fins from the Middle East which arrived in Maersk containers. An airfreight shipment on Virgin Australia Cargo and Cathay Pacific which had been falsely declared as "fish products" was not identified by customs. The exporter who attempted to transport these goods has now been blacklisted by Virgin Australia Cargo which has a ban on the transportation of shark fins. The problem that companies such as Virgin, Maersk and Cathay Pacific are now facing is that shark fin traders are abusing the system by fraudulently mis-declaring and mis-labeling shark fin under generic categories such as "seafood," "dried seafood," "dried goods" or "dried marine products" to avoid detection.
"It's so sad what the team at Sea Shepherd has managed to discover. Thousands and thousands of sharks slaughtered just for their fins to be turned into bowls of soup. For those people who have knowingly participated they need to hang their heads in shame. For Sea Shepherd and the team led by Gary Stokes, they need to be congratulated for exposing this foul and sometimes illegal trade," said Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group.
"Well over thirty airlines and just under twenty container shipping lines now operate No Shark Fin cargo bans. Yet some airlines, such and Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airlines, are resisting industry best practice and are still propping up the crime-ridden shark fin trade. WildAid is calling on all passenger airlines, cargo airlines, container shipping lines as well as express parcel carriers such as FedEx and TNT, to act sustainably, ethically—and above all legally—by ruling out dirty shark fin shipments from their cargo holds," said Alex Hofford, of WildAid.
Working Together to Close the Loopholes
Presented with the evidence, Maersk, Cathay Pacific and Virgin are now working in close collaboration with Sea Shepherd Global and WildAid to close all remaining loopholes being exploited by the shark fin trade. "A full review is being undertaken of their booking procedures and alert mechanisms to help them enforce their bans," said Stokes.
All international trade is monitored and facilitated by the World Customs Organization, which maintains a detailed list of Harmonized Shipping Codes (HS Codes). These are 6-digit codes (HK goes one step further by increasing to 8-digits) which can show, at a granular level, the exact contents of a cargo shipment. However HS Codes are right now only being used to track import/export data exclusively for statistical reasons, with trade declarations only being filed after a shipment has arrived. Sea Shepherd Global and WildAid are calling for the switching of Hong Kong's trade documentation filing requirement to be switched from post-shipment to pre-shipment. With the availability of pre-shipment information, Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department will be able to carry out more effective risk-profiling and hence more targeted enforcement work. Mandatory filing of full HS codes prior to port arrival would ensure that airlines and shipping lines can be more certain of the exact contents of cargo shipments. Such a system is already in place in the U.S. as an effective counter-terrorism measure. Spain also operates similar, more stringent, shipping procedures that can give customs the edge over the agile transnational wildlife crime syndicates. The Hong Kong government is also calling on the public and the business sector to support the availability of pre-shipment information to align with international mainstream and best customs practices, yet is facing stiff resistance from the trade.
Sea Shepherd Global has launched a full in-depth investigation into the global shark fin trade and its supply routes to provide a clearer picture to shipping companies for them to best tackle and enforce their commitments to environmentally sustainable shipping policies.