It is widely known that sharks are relentlessly persecuted every year in the finning industry to provide the ‘star’ ingredient in shark fin soup popular in Asia. In addition to this, individuals wanting to increase their general health consume other shark products such as oil supplements and cartilage pills.
The shark finning industry is a lucrative business around the globe and provides a vital income to poorer areas (although the majority of any profits from distributing shark fin soup will go to the established businesses which sell it). Estimates of how many sharks are killed per year range from 70 – 100 million due to finning and by – catch. Most shark species are listed as endangered by the IUCN red list due to overfishing, reaching sexual maturity later in life and not producing many offspring during their lifetime.
Finning is an extremely cruel practice involving the removal of the fins whilst the sharks are alive and then returning them to the sea. For a species that requires its fins for locomotion to allow water to flow over its gills to breath, they are left to suffocate on the ocean floor.
Researchers at the University of Miami have discovered that shark fins (collected from living specimens of 7 species of shark) that may be intended for consumption, contained high concentrations of β-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA). BMAA is a neurotoxin that is linked to neurodegenerative diseases in humans such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig Disease (ALS), significantly reducing people’s quality of life.
This research may come as quite a shock to those that like to tuck into a bowl of shark fin soup or consume shark liver oil, as this news is potentially life changing! As for the sharks, the results from this research is obviously very encouraging for the recovery of their populations, as it could potentially mean, the banning (or higher control) of shark produce around the world because of the very high concentrations of BMAA found.