Oregon ban helps protect sharks from extinction
by David Kracke, WildAid International Board Member
(The Oregonian, 01/04/12)
With the passage of the ban on shark fins in Oregon, one of the most important bills to become law this year may also be one of the least understood. Starting Jan. 1, 2012, it is illegal to possess, sell or trade shark fins in the state of Oregon. For the vast majority of us who have never eaten shark fin soup, or even thought of it, this may seem like a bit of a yawn. In reality, though, this new law is anything but.
Shark fin soup is a delicacy in China and other Asian countries meant to bring good fortune to those who eat it and to demonstrate the wealth and importance of the host who serves it. But in order to fill the bowls of this supposed delicacy, 70 million sharks are killed, indiscriminately, every year.
When the sharks are caught they are hauled into the boat and the fins are cut from its body. The finless shark is then thrown into the ocean, where it either drowns or is eaten by other predators. This is animal abuse of the highest order and from this perspective alone is enough to justify the ban on shark fins in Oregon and everywhere on the planet, but this argument also misses the real point of the ban:
If we, as a species, don't do something to protect the sharks then many of the world's shark populations are headed for extinction.
When extinction is a consequence, any tradition, no matter how entrenched in a culture, has to change, and this demonstrates a strange conflict among our fellow human beings. Some of us understand the moral responsibility not to hunt a species to extinction, where others of us seem totally indifferent to the consequences of killing 70 million sharks per year even when the imminent extinction of many shark species exists.
If we get into a war of words about whether it is crueler to kill sharks versus the cruelty found in the hog, chicken and cow slaughterhouses in the United States, we also miss the point. This law addresses the fact that we are in the middle of the greatest mass extinction in millions of years and that humans are the cause of the vast majority of those extinctions.
This law is a plea to the people who would drive a species to extinction asking them to consider what they are doing to sharks and by extension to rhinos, tigers, bears and myriad other species that are on the brink of extinction because cultural tradition demands their rampant poaching. In other words, the poaching of endangered species will end only when the demand for those endangered species' body parts ends, or as we say at WildAid, "When the buying stops, the killing can, too."
Oregon has taken a step in that direction. This law has buried within it a fervent prayer that those people who currently consume endangered species' body parts will recognize that their tradition will end in one of two ways, either voluntarily while there are still sharks in the ocean, or involuntarily, when there are no more sharks, and therefore no more shark fins to fill bowls of soup.