Shark Fin Soup Endangers Sharks And Humans
Shark populations are declining, some by as much as 71%. This is driven in no small way by the billion-dollar industry demand for products made from their body parts, including shark fin soup. Large predators such as sharks are crucial to biodiversity, yet their use has not slowed. Without action, sharks may disappear from ecosystems altogether to their (and our) detriment.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) regularly publishes its Red List outlining threatened, vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered nonhuman species. Similarly, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II details animals who may not be close to extinction but need regulation to prevent them from future harm. Many shark species feature on one or both of these lists.
It’s often difficult to identify which species of sharks are used in processed shark products. Shark fin soup contains ‘ceratrotrichia’ (fibers from collagen inside the fin), though sometimes it also contains intact full or partial fins. In this study, researchers used mini-DNA barcoding technology to identify the specific shark species in 92 samples of shark fin soup from across Singapore.
The fourteen bowls of soup were priced between $9 and $54 USD, with pricing based on fin size and possibly species. Most bowls contained multiple species, with a total of fifteen species identified across all soup samples (including one chimaera, a deep-sea relative of the shark). Almost one-third of these species were listed in CITES Appendix II, and ten bowls contained critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable species. The near-threatened blue shark was the most commonly used, found in more than half of the bowls, followed by the school shark in three bowls.
Blue sharks and other species contain high levels of neurotoxins such as mercury, many at “unsafe levels.” Just one weekly helping of shark products can expose eaters to three times more mercury than global regulatory bodies advise, as it can cause harmful medical conditions and disorders. Varying levels of mercury and other neurotoxins such as lead and cadmium are evident in different shark species, and fins contain higher levels than other body parts. This is especially concerning, as the majority of shark products eaten by humans are fins in soup.
As global demand continues to rise, we must take action now to protect sharks from the harmful, exploitative shark trade. The authors believe that targeted strategies such as catch quotas can protect the most vulnerable species, but advocacy is needed to convince consumers to stop eating shark products altogether. Even if consumers aren’t concerned with the animal welfare and environmental harms of shark fin soup, the authors point out that they should be concerned with the health problems associated with neurotoxins.