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4 Lame Excuses for Shark Finning and Why it Must End

The act of shark finning flies directly in the face of sustainable living. We need to outgrow this practice and embrace a positive relationship with sharks.

This is the latest installment in Casson Trenor's monthly column, 4 Oceans, about protecting our fisheries and ocean health through sustainable seafood.

A powerful conservation movement is afoot in the United States. Shark finning -- the practice of catching sharks, slicing their fins off, and then dumping the animals overboard (often still alive and slowly bleeding to death) -- is being exposed for the monstrosity it is. Globally, we slaughter tens of millions of sharks each year. And for the most part, we do it for the fins, which can fetch hundreds of dollars a pound.

This is insanity. We need sharks in our oceans. Without sharks and other top-level carnivores to keep populations of sub-predators in check, we run the risk of losing productive and well-balanced marine ecosystems to trophic collapse. Thankfully, some communities are finally saying no to shark finning. Hawaii banned the possession and sale of shark fins in 2010. Washington State signed a similar prohibition into law on May 12 of this year, and in California, a ban on trafficking in shark fins is working its way through the legislature.

It's difficult to overestimate the importance of such a law passing in California. More shark fins are sold and consumed in the Golden State than in any of the other 49. If we can manage to protect these unique animals under California state law, we may not be far from a nationwide moratorium on this staggeringly unsustainable practice.

Here are several common arguments being used to defend this practice, followed by my thoughts on why they're unsound.

1: Shark fin consumption is a cultural practice and tradition.

Some cultures have a history of consuming shark fin. I am not in any place to pass judgment on these cultures, and I don't want to. All I want to say is that culture is not the unchanging monolith that some make it out to be.

Culture is a dynamic representation of both the history and the current state of a particular group, be it based around attitudes, ideals, goals, shared experiences, or other connective forces. A culture is not a static thing -- it changes with the times. Over the centuries, many cultural practices have ended in favor of the evolving wisdom and consciousness of the human race. For example, while I may not be part of a culture that has historically practiced shark finning, I am a member of a culture that has historically practiced slavery.

I am a Caucasian American and a direct descendant of slave-owning ancestors who believed in the inferiority of human beings with a darker skin color than their own. I even have relatives who died while shooting at the Union army to protect this cultural practice (among other things, of course). Slavery was a common practice in North America for centuries. It was part of our culture. It was also wrong. And, thankfully, it ended.

Human beings evolve. Our cultures evolve. As we learn more about our planet and ourselves, we gain the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. We now know far too much about humanity's dependence on Earth's environment to keep slaughtering sharks for their fins. The tragedy of shark finning is more than just sharks dying for shortsighted profit -- it's that today, when we have learned so much about sharks and their irreplaceable roles in our oceans, we continue to mindlessly slaughter them in the name of "culture."

2: Shark fin is good for your health.

Some schools of Eastern medicine equate shark fin consumption with heightened energy and virility. I am certainly no nutritionist, and will not attempt to dispute this belief. That said, it's a proven fact that a typical bowl of shark fin soup is in actuality quite devoid of most vitamins when compared to, say, a similar serving of vegetable soup. Shark fin does have some nutritional value -- especially some key elements like iron and zinc -- but it's nothing one couldn't get from any number of other foods. To kill a shark for such a meager nutritional reward is a terrible bargain for the planet at large.

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