Sharks need protection, seriously

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Sharks need protection, seriously

October 01, 2017 - 04:21
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The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act is a bill now in Congress, which aims to take shark fins off the market in the United States. Conservationists consider it to be a vital step in the effort to protect sharks. Yet, shark fisheries scientists David Shiffman and Robert Hueter are doing their best to block it. They have published a paper opposing the legislation, which has been echoed by the press in ways suggesting that banning the shark fin trade in the United States could be "bad for sharks."

A finned shark

But their short and vacuous article gives only three reasons why the bill should not be passed, and concerns itself with the well-being of shark fisheries, not sharks.

Firstly, they state that passage of the Act will "undermine decades of progress made towards ensuring sustainable shark fisheries in the United States and around the world." But in the absence of any evidence or reasoning in support this allegation, it remains nothing more than an opinion. The statement is neither scientific nor relevant to the real issue.

The second reason given is that the legislation "will likely have little effect on global shark mortality." Likely? This too is just an opinion. Indeed, the facts indicate that the extinguishing of the shark fin trade inside the United States will strike a hard blow and weaken the international fin racket, much of which is in criminal hands. The sharks being caught up by finning are those species at the highest risk of extinction, and the United States remains the seventh worst nation in the world in supporting shark finning.

The third reason given is that if the bill is passed, it will "contribute to the misconception that demand for shark fin soup is the only threat facing shark populations worldwide." They have apparently made an assumption that a "misconception" exists, and that it provides a reason for the United States to continue to support shark finning. And those are the only arguments the authors could find against this important piece of legislation! Indeed, their weak arguments actually underline the importance of the proposed law.

The authors then go on to emphasize how complicated the subject is, so much so that others do not understand it, which is a common theme in Shiffman's papers. He presents himself as an authority with important information for the enlightenment of others, while subtly insinuating that conservation efforts are somehow on the wrong track. But if you try to find real science in his articles, you will come up empty-handed.

Conflict of interest

Shiffman has admitted to being financed by everything from Sharknado 2 (an American sci-fi comedy-horror disaster TV film1) to a variety of fishing interests, and this latest paper is only one in a series of articles he has published in the effort to give the scientific ring of authority to shark fishing and finning.

When industry finances academic research papers, the conclusions drawn will always favour their interests. Once they are published, those ideas are accepted as being scientific. Thus, paying for "science" provides the fishing industry with a way to launder biased, non-scientific ideas into a form that will have the same credibility as pure research, just as criminals launder money. Remarkably, the academic community accepts this practice, and it is used openly by the fishing industry.

Under-reporting

Pure research, such as the global study of shark depletion carried out by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Shark Specialist Group (IUCN SSG) found that fisheries management has failed this entire line of animals, which are of incalculable ecological importance. Their findings are of even more concern because catches are believed to be three or four times greater than reported. Most catches of sharks and rays are neither recorded nor reported, are not regulated, and are discarded at sea.

Representatives Ed Royce and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan introduced the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act on 9 March 2017. If passed, it will effectively remove the United States from the global shark fin trade as well as re-establish the country as a leader in oceanic and shark protection. Unfortunately, the shark finning and fishing lobby is doing all it can to make sure that it does not pass. ■

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