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“Shark fin soup comes with a heavy price”
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“Shark fin soup comes with a heavy price”

 Geetha KanniahThe rising demand for shark fin soup poses a dilemma, says Geetha Kanniah, 17, a Correspondent from Malaysia. It means more income for local fishermen, but threatens sharks and the marine ecosystem. 

My favorite animal is the shark. Its elegance as it darts through the water with a robust build is what makes it so appealing. Though many people might find this creature to be frightening, I find it inspiring. 

Though sharks are such pristine animals, people have taken them for granted. The facts: 73 million sharks are brutally murdered each year on a global scale;145 countries are involved in shark finning activities; among the top ten countries contributing to this problem are Indonesia, Japan, Argentina, Taiwan, and Singapore (according to the Shark Savers Association). Hong Kong handles 80 per cent of the world trade in shark finning and this is mainly due to an increase in demand for their fins. 

Fishermen often only have use for three per cent of the big fish – that is, their fins. The rest of the shark has little value. Because the fishermen boats known as sampan are too small to fit a whole big fish, the shark is discarded after the fins are cut. It is returned, still alive, back into the sea. While a single fin of a shark can fetch $10,000 to $20,000, without its fin a shark cannot survive in the wild, blue ocean. It is not capable of fending for itself and is handicapped without a fin. 

The consumption of shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy, has been on the rise lately due to the general global increase in incomes of Chinese communities. This market is said to be growing by five per cent each year and has had a drastic impact on sharks. This soup is often consumed during weddings and special occasions, as it comes with a heavy price. Yet people are willing to pay because it rejuvenates and energizes the organs in our bodies. Shark fin soup can sell for $70 to $150 for each bowl. 

To my dismay, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Malaysia is ranked 15th among the world’s top shark catching nations. This fact was what drove me to play my part in conserving and preserving the sharks. 

I started at the age of 15, when I volunteered with the Shark Savers under the project Save Our Sharks From A Bowl Of Soup (SOSFABOS). Together with other conservationists, we managed to collect 4,200 pledges against the consumption of shark fin soup – all in a day. While people of all walks of life signed their pledges, there were also those who hesitated mainly because they lack the awareness of this dilemma. Some also feel that it is not their responsibility. 

SOSFABOS project made me realize that I could and should do more to build awareness among Malaysians generally. I then collaborated with the Asian Shark Conservation team in organizing an expo to spread awareness. Organizations such as Project Aware, WWF and Reef Check pitched in, and together we put up a three-day event to highlight the importance of sharks to our ecosystem. 

The population of the underwater marine life is regulated by sharks. A balanced marine ecosystem is maintained by sharks. As this animal is at the top of the food chain, it plays its role by feeding on those below it. The prey-predator relationship keeps the underwater community balanced by feeding on those that are weak and sick. Besides that, the symbiotic relationship that it practices, commensalism, also helps other fish, particularly the remora fish, by providing food. 

In the Malaysian water, the more common shark species are the hammerheads, leopard, whale and nurse sharks. We certainly don’t want to lose them from our waters. For this reason the Malaysian government along with pro-marine organisations has been pushing for bans to stop this crime of shark finning. 

But the question remains – can shark-finning really be banned when it is a source of income for the local fishermen? 

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About me:

I am a Malaysian, who looks for adventure and thrill, and is passionate about sports. I enjoy tennis, swimming, badminton and most recently, longboarding. I also spend a lot of my time with my camera, capturing as much as I can, while documenting them on my blog: journeywithacamera.wordpress.com.  

My travels give me the exposure to learn about the world. And to know and do more, I volunteer with different organizations, particularly in the marine field. My ambition is to be an explorer and to reach out to people.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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