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The Finning – a horror story

Posted by Don McLenaghen on November 24, 2011

On a recent episode of Radio Free Thinker, during our Skeptic Highlight segment, I brought to the attention of people, especially those of Vancouver, about a boycott of restaurant that had Shark Fin on their menu. I fell into several pit-falls in how I stated the boycott and this was brought to my attention by one of our loyal listeners. As a good skeptic, one should be able to accept criticism, use critical thinking to assess that criticism and, when evidence warrants it, regardless of person desire, correct or apologize for the source of the criticism. To that end, I hope to address some criticism but first should explain the issue at hand – both to provide context as well as to educate our audience.

First, let me tell you what Finning is. This is the practice of catching sharks, taking a knife and slicing off the fins (left, right, top and tail) and then shove the living shark back into the ocean to die. Why not take the whole shark? Shark meat has little commercial value and to transport it back to port is an ‘unnecessary’ expense – i.e. it’s just cheaper to bring back only the lucrative fins. It is estimated that millions of sharks are killed this way every year[1].

So, why is it so bad?

Reproductions; the shark is a slow breeder. It usually takes sharks at least a decade before sharks become reproductive and most large sharks (prized for their large fins) only have 1 or 2 offspring a year. This means that sharks have experienced a catastrophic population decline – nearly 70% by most reputable estimates with some species as much as 90%.

Although in some parts of the world (notably Southern Australia), shark meat is market commodity, globally it’s the shark fin that is the prize. Shark Fin sells upwards $1200 kg. This is to make what some call the delicacy Shark Fin Soup…which ironically enough is renowned for its lack of taste. The shark fin is seen to readily absorb other flavours while retaining a chewy texture.

Why boycott it?

First, there is the ethical issue. This is where I must accept the criticism of our listener and take a Mia Copa.  I said something like that on finning “you could argue is slightly cruel”; I intended that to be an understatement – of the variety that having your arm ripped might hurt a bit (and I think that is a salient comparison). Some may take the stand that ‘lower’ animals do not feel pain and thus my comment could be misunderstood that I thought there was some doubt about the suffering inflicted on the animal; that is not what I believe.

How long would be accept the practice of ‘legging’ where we took lambs, cut off their legs then threw them back in to the field to die? In our modern industrial factory type farming, we have (at least in theory) accepted that if we are going to kill an animal for food, we should do so humanly.

The second criticism (if it was meant as one) was that my comment that it was ‘wasteful’ was irrelevant. This, I would disagree with. If one is not a vegan or a vegetarian, then one accepts that animals will die to feed people and if we accept that somehow they could ‘solve’ the cruelty issues already raised, shark finning would still be unacceptable. Why? It’s in efficient.

Yes, I have my ‘strict utilitarian’ hat on and NO, I personally do not think this argument my strongest but it will speak to those who are environmental economist and perhaps librarian. That is, if we are going to use a resource (their term, not mine) then we should make the most of that resource. To ‘through overboard’ such a large supply of protein that could be used to feed (poor?) people, as animal feed, or just for the shark skin, is not only a waste but in some intuitive way wrong.

Lastly, I left what I think to be the strongest argument against Finning out all together; it is unsustainable. As mentioned, the large (and many smaller) shark species are on their way to extinction. If we continue to ‘harvest’ sharks at the rate we currently are, most large species are unlikely to last 20yrs and the rest probably will be gone by the end of the century. We are taxing the environment to collapse and sharks are one of the bell-weather species.

Regardless of whether you think Finning is inhumane, wasteful or environmentally unsustainable; it seem profoundly morally wrong to drive a species to extinction simply to placate the pallets of some elitist minded consumers. Can any soup be worth the extinction of any one species let along a whole collection of them? NO!

So, I think we should not only boycott restaurants that have shark fin on the menu, but actively let our view be known. We should not only limit it to restaurants but to apothecaries, food shops and ‘ethnic’ markets that sell dried shark fin and make it impossible for any reputable business to sell shark fin.

End Finning Now!

[1] This number is highly contested with some numbers stated 3-4 million, others as high as 73 million. Because some of the sharks are killed as ‘by-product’ of other net-catching activities (ie. cod nets catching sharks ‘by mistake’) pro-shark-fin advocates state the numbers listed are either extreme exaggerations or include this unintentional killing although even by industry numbers by-catch accounts for only 50% of shark kills.




Video: <warning – graphic images>






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