Sharks Saved From Soup Pot (For Now)

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A group of young sharks is no longer at risk of ending up in hot water.

A group of environmental activists called Dive Tribe purchased 60 baby sharks from Thai restaurants and markets. But rather than asking for them served in soup bowls, the group collected the sharks in plastic bags and then, after a temporary stay in a resort aquarium, released them back into the wild.

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“We are losing too many sharks. We can’t afford to take any more out of the ocean,” Gwyn Mills, founder of Dive Tribe said in a AFP article.

The blacktip reef sharks and bamboo sharks the group saved are listed as near-threatened on the IUCN Red List. The sharks were set free off the coast of the southern Thai sea resort of Pattaya.

Something the AFP article didn’t mention was that buying the sharks from food merchants and restaurants still encourages the capture of sharks from the wild.

It makes no difference to the bottom line of the vendors if the sharks end up in a soup pot or back in the ocean. They still profit and will therefore still continue to demand fresh supplies from the sea.

Economically speaking, the shark release was actually good for the fisherman’s pocketbook, since the same shark can now be sold twice.

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In the long run, more permanent solutions are necessary to tackle the problem of intensive over-fishing of sharks.

One is to reduce the demand for shark products, especially shark fin soup. Considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac in China, the soup has become increasingly popular amongst the prospering Chinese middle-class.

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Perhaps a creative marketing campaign by Viagra could reduce the demand for shark’s fins and other animal products used as aphrodisiacs, such as tiger penis.

Another way to reduce fishing is to make it more valuable to keep sharks in the water. Several nations, including Honduras, have banned shark fishing both to preserve their marine ecosystems and draw international scuba diver dollars to marine preserves.

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Why spend all day in the hot sun fishing for sharks in the reefs around Honduras’ Bay Islands, when you can just tend bar on Roatan and fish for tips from scuba diving tourists?

Creating marine preserves for sharks also protects the rest of the ecosystem and gives fisheries a chance to rebound.

Tim Wall reports from Siguatepeque, Honduras, where he teaches journalism to fifth and sixth grade public school students.

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IMAGES:

Juvenile brownbanded bamboo shark, Chiloscyllium punctatum (Wikimedia Commons)

Shark fin stew (Wikimedia Commons)

NOAA agent counting confiscated shark fins (Wikimedia Commons)