Throughout much of Asia, the Chinese delicacy of shark fin soup is widely recognized as a status symbol of the wealthy. Usually only found only at special occasions – such as weddings or banquets - it is an item of such luxury that it is often served to important guests as a way of bestowing them great respect.

To give an idea of the high costs involved, Scalloped hammerhead fins are among the most highly sought after as they help to create a particularly thick, gelatinous soup. In the Asian market place just 1 kg of these coveted fins can sell for as much as $120.00.

Unfortunately, the premium prices commanded by shark fins have fuelled a global shark hunt of epic proportions. Research has shown that up to 73,000,000 sharks are killed annually to supply the fin markets, placing the future survival of many shark species in doubt. Further research from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada has also shown that shark populations - as well as populations of all large predators in the worlds oceans - have dropped an estimated 90 per cent in the last 30 years. Some species of shark, such as the tiger, bull and dusky shark have dropped by more than 95 per cent.

Unfortunately, further controversy hangs over the practice of shark fishing, mainly because shark bodies have little, substantial value. This has caused many fishermen to use the practice known as ‘finning’. This is where the fins are cut away from the sharks body while the remainder of the fish - which is often still alive - is thrown back into the sea. Once back in the ocean, the finless shark is unable to swim and sinks to the ocean bottom to die, a slow and extremely painful death.

Animal rights activists and environmentalists have called the practice brutal, and have also named it as a primary contributing factor in the global decline of many shark species.

Hong Kong is responsible for handling anywhere between 50% and possibly up to 80% of the world’s trade in shark fins. Of that number 21% of fins were found to have originated in waters off of coastlines of the United States, Belize, Panama and Brazil. Surprisingly, these are areas where the shark has been categorized as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature!

But it is not just the Americas that are helping to fuel this enormous market, a third of all fins imported to Hong Kong come from Europe with Spain by far the largest supplier. Of course they are not alone with Norway Britain, France, Portugal and Italy all making major contributions to this barbaric trade. Currently there are only a couple of dozen countries, including those in the EU, which have banned the practice of shark finning – and mostly in just the last five years.

In 2004 was the first fish was placed under the protection of the ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species’ (CITES). Today there are at least some species of sharks listed on CITES such as the Great White and some of the Basking sharks.

By systematically removing the top predator from every ocean we're destroying the balance of the world’s most important ecosystem, one that is vital for our own survival - hopefully we are not too late. Just as awareness and education has help to bring back many whale species from the brink of extinctions, hopefully shark populations can also be saved. We lose them at out own peril!

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