On a recent visit to Vietnam, Donald Trump sunk his big white teeth into an unfortunate victim. He was eating shark fin soup – an Asian delicacy responsible for the huge decline in sharks around the world, which is wreaking havoc on the delicate balance of our oceans.
Shark fin soup is eaten mainly in Asia as a lavish status symbol. While the dish might have some cultural significance, its environmental effects cannot be ignored – it’s thought that over 70 million sharks are killed each year just for their fins.
While many might prefer our seas to be shark-free, lots of sharks make for a healthy ocean, as they control the abundance of species further down the food chain. And if you think they’re scary, man-eating monsters, remember – you’re more likely to be killed by champagne corks, vending machines, a hot dog, and cows.
With everything from climate change to plastics ruining the world’s waters, raising awareness of shark conservation is more important than ever – especially when the President of the United States doesn’t seem overly concerned.
In response to someone saying they wouldn’t eat at a restaurant where shark fin soup was on the menu, Trump tweeted: “Sharks are last on my list – other than perhaps the losers and haters of the world!” He also once served the dish at his failed Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City.
The process of “finning” – removing a shark’s fins whilst it is alive and tossing it back into the water – is controversial due to its cruelty, and incredibly unsustainable as it uses only a tiny portion of a shark’s body. Unsurprisingly, then, Trump's meal of shark fin soup caused quite a stir.
Luckily, some progress has been made in recent years. Various countries have banned shark finning in their waters or illegalized trade and possession of shark products. A number of species, including whale sharks, were also recently given better protection under the Migratory Species Act.
In the US, the Shark Conservation Act makes it illegal to fin sharks in American waters. Meanwhile, certain states and territories, like Hawaii and California, have banned the possession, sale, and distribution of shark fins.
What’s more, the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, introduced to Senate earlier this year, wants to remove America’s involvement in the shark fin trade. However, some scientists warn that US fisheries should continue setting an example of sustainable shark fishing to the rest of the world, as other, less regulated fisheries will likely take their place.
The best way to kill the shark fin trade is to reduce consumer demand, as this is what makes the fins so valuable – one bowl of soup can sell for hundreds of dollars. Changing attitudes is tricky, but progress is slowly being made. Hopefully, enough can be done so that sharks can bite back before it’s too late.