2002 words • 8~14 min read

Shark fin bans: A storify of this week’s twitter discussion

Earlier this week, I asked my twitter followers what they thought about shark fin bans, which prompted a long and stimulating discussion. What follows is my first attempt at “Storify”, shared in the hopes that the discussion can continue here.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a big supporter of shark fin bans because they don’t allow for sustainable, well-managed fisheries to supply the market. Additionally, they promote the common (and false) belief that shark fin soup is the only major problem facing sharks, and don’t address many of the other important issues associated with shark conservation.

Instead, I favor a comprehensive approach to shark management, including requiring that sharks be landed with fins attached (i.e. a ban on “finning” but the fins can still be used if the shark is landed whole), special protections for threatened and endangered species, science-based fisheries quotas for species that can sustain fishing, time/area closures or gear restrictions when necessary, and  careful monitoring (including requiring that all fishing nations report the species composition of their catch).

Check out the great discussion if you missed it, and let me know what you think of this important issue in the comments of this post.

A discussion on shark fin bans

I asked my Twitter followers how they felt about "shark fin bans"

Storified by David Shiffman · Tue, May 08 2012 10:37:53

Shark fin bans have become a popular tool of the conservation movement lately, and have been enacted (to date) in the U.S. states of Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington. Similar bans are being discussed in Illinois, Maryland, and New York. These laws make it illegal for anyone to buy, sell, or possess shark fins, which are used to make shark fin soup, regardless of where those fins came from (i.e. an overfished and poorly monitored fishery or a well-regulated fishery utilizing best fishing practices). I asked my followers what they thought of these bans. 
Quick, informal poll. Who supports shark fin bans (can’t buy/sell/possess) #shark fins, and why? (1/2)David Shiffman
One alternative is finning bans- sharks must be landed whole with fins attached (careful monitoring), then fins can be sold. (2/2)David Shiffman
Join the discussion- do you support #shark #fin bans, or do you prefer other #shark #conservation measures? Why?David Shiffman
FYI, all participating in #shark #fin ban discussion- I’m not trying to attack, just trying to understand your perspectives.David Shiffman
What followed was a stimulating discussion about the pros and cons of the tools available for shark conservation.
Some of my followers are against shark fishing of any kind.
@WhySharksMatter I don’t think anyone/company shld be permitted to kill/cull any sharks & I don’t think sharks shld be mutilated after deathtizzle
.@Tizzlefish So you propose a complete global moratorium on any #shark fishing and use of #shark products?David Shiffman
@WhySharksMatter of course! It’s like buying/selling/possessing human arms. Shark fins belong on sharks.tizzle
I support #sharkfin ban for enviro reasons & according to @eilperin’s Demon Fish, it don’t taste good no how @WhySharksMatter @ShipLivesGreg Lester
@WhySharksMatter Worth noting that the pointless shark slaughter is driven by sympathetic magic & a tasteless soup ingredient @shiplivesGreg Lester
.@Greg_Lester @eilperin @ShipLives Whether or not non-consumers like the taste is somewhat irrelevant in fisheries management…David Shiffman
Some had objections to fin bans grounded in economics.
@WhySharksMatter outlawing fin sales (even from legally landed sharks) will drive up the price & increase incentives for illegal harvest.Scott Crosson
@WhySharksMatter black markets generally tend to produce unintended consequences.Scott Crosson
@WhySharksMatter Bans outside primary market can’t achieve much & I don’t see a ban in China soon. Fins-on regs + gd enforcement better.Eleanor Partridge
@WhySharksMatter ah, bans are only as effective as education,nothing can be solved by making things illiegal,rarity etc brings higher pricesDan
@NewYorkCreator Actually, higher prices will drive up shark demand, as we’ve seen with bear gall bladders. @whysharksmatterKiko Acero
@WhySharksMatter Fin bans are useless. Like prohibition. Have to change the culture that drives demand, as you noted earlier. @greg_lesterKiko Acero
@WhySharksMatter Bans focus on the prob. but edu. & economics is core. We have many "illegal" activities but that doesn’t stop the use!Andrea & Jason
@WhySharksMatter surely the effort should be towards more public awareness and acceptance in it’s affects. In a supply and Demand ethos.Abbo
Some followers felt that fin bans weren’t the ultimate solution, but could be used in the meantime to help protect sharks until a better comprehensive fisheries management plan was created. 
@WhySharksMatter I’m for shark fin bans immediately to curb the problem but ultimately more stringent fishing lawsSMcCorison
@WhySharksMatter one more note – thoughtful, moderate laws would be nice, but the conversation tends to come after it’s too late for thatSMcCorison
.@WhySharksMatter I agree that responsible comprehensive fisheries management is the ideal end goal, but fin bans may be ‘triage’ stepFriends of Hector
There was some conflating of the shark fin fishery with shark fishing as a whole
100% support it. Fins provide no value & cause irreparable harm to the ecosystem. RT @WhySharksMatter do you support #shark #fin bans? Why?Ryan E. Hoffman
.@NewYorkCreator Is it "fins" that harm the ecosystem? Or removal of #sharks , including for fins?David Shiffman
.@NewYorkCreator But fin bans don’t stop #shark fishing, only the use of fins once #sharks are caught.David Shiffman
.@NewYorkCreator Fin bans do nothing about the major source of demand, and nothing about other sources of #shark mortalityDavid Shiffman
@WhySharksMatter if we want healthy oceans/diversity,sharks are essential,no question,saving things always seems someone elses job though :(Dan
@WhySharksMatter Of course ban! The reasons to ban are endless! #StopSharkFinningAnnie Anderson
.@SharksNeedLove The reasons for #shark conservation are endless, but why fin bans vs. comprehensive fisheries management?David Shiffman
@SharksNeedLove The alternative- responsible comprehensive fisheries managementDavid Shiffman
.@Greg_Lester @shiplives Yes, much #shark fishing demand (not all, possibly not even most) is driven by fin demand. What about the rest?David Shiffman
There are also cultural arguments to consider. Shark fin soup has been consumed in China (in much, much, much smaller quantities than currently) for over 2,000 years, and many in China are concerned about Westerners telling them to give up part of their culture.
@WhySharksMatter Interesting points of view. As a Chinese, living in one of the major hubs for sharkfin trade (Singapore), let me share…Ivan Kwan
@WhySharksMatter my view. IMHO, a shark fin ban IS the simplest solution. But it does nothing to change the mindset of consumers here…Ivan Kwan
@WhySharksMatter A lot of people react to campaigns with the nonsense mindset that these are Westerners imposing their ideals on Asians…Ivan Kwan
@WhySharksMatter It’s still often framed as an East vs. West problem. "Those Westerners decimated their wildlife and now they preach to us!"Ivan Kwan
@WhySharksMatter Mindsets are changing, slowly. Total ban on fins will do nothing to make people understand. I hope the populations hang on.Ivan Kwan
While many object to shark fin soup from a moral perspective, others object from a sustainability perspective and have no problem in principle with fins that come from a well managed and well regulated fishery. 
.@WhySharksMatter it’s a tough question! Problems with many legal shark fisheries but there COULD be sustainable sourcea of #shark #finFriends of Hector
.@WhySharksMatter My preference would be #shark #fin bans written to exempt products that could be traced to legal well-regulated fisheriesFriends of Hector
.@WhySharksMatter Maybe what we need is some sort of ‘Kimberley Process’ for shark fins. Onus on the industry to show source, otherwise ban.Friends of Hector
@WhySharksMatter @drcrosson Then I’m satisfied so long as harvest is sustainable. How do most shark fisheries stand on that criteria?Clifford Hutt
@WhySharksMatter don’t forget law enforcement in debate. Argument for complete ban: difficult to tell whether fins from prohibited species.Scott Crosson
Some felt that the issue shark finning gets people’s attention, attention which can later be channeled to other shark conservation issues. I was skeptical of this argument and complained (not for the first time, or the last) that other important issues weren’t receiving anywhere near the level of attention as finning bans.
@WhySharksMatter fins have been brought to the forefront of shark conservation issues. It’s like a ‘poster issue’ for shark conservation.Charlotte Ford
.@Charlooottee I fear it’s the only issue that many people pay attention to, and it’s far from the only problem facing #sharksDavid Shiffman
@WhySharksMatter exactly. It’s sad that people can’t think of habitat loss and bycatch at other MAJOR, MAJOR shark issues.Charlotte Ford
.@WhySharksMatter @Greg_Lester Fins give an entry point to start bigger discussion. Not sure we had the same opportunity b4 finning issue.Friends of Hector
.@HectorBlueShark @Greg_Lester Sure, but "finning bans" are just as effective at starting this discussion as "fin bans"David Shiffman
@WhySharksMatter shark fin bans a partial solution to a shark fin problem, not shark conservation as a whole. There is no single answer.Greg Lester
.@Greg_Lester Shark conservation is being discussed essentially only in the context of finning bans, though.David Shiffman
@WhySharksMatter DISAGREE #shark conservation ‘being discussed only in context of fin bans’: sanctuaries, multi-media, investigations…FYI.Samantha Whitcraft
.@SamWhitcraft The overwhelming focus I’ve seen has been on "fin bans" and "shark sanctuaries", very little on RFMOs, quotas, bycatch, etc.David Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft I’ve also seen almost no discussion on critical habitat protections, time/area closures of specific gear types, etcDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft I’ve seen very little push for observer coverage, for required reporting of species composition of catch, etcDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft I would argue that shark sanctuaries, while a great tool are not the same thing as critical habitat protections.David Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft By "critical habitat protections", I mean nursery/aggregation areas rather than a countries’ entire EEZDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft Even countries that will never ban shark fishing in their whole EEZ can protect critical habitats and make a big differenceDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft I hear a lot about fin bans and sanctuaries from my various mailing lists, less about quota reductions and species ID rulesDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft What I’m saying is sanctuaries are great, and so are quota reductions, gear restrictions, requiring species ID, etc.David Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft We focus a lot on big victories, but a lot of simultaneous small steps (in addition to, not instead of) can also helpDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft Again, @SharkSavers is great about balance (part of why I like your group so much) , not all groups are.David Shiffman
The passion of #shark conservationists have for #fin bans is inspiring. I just wish some of it was channeled to other #shark issues.David Shiffman
This issue isn’t going away anytime soon, and this fascinating discussion is certain to continue. 
Thanks again to my followers for a great discussion (but sorry for flooding your feed with it). Your passion and knowledge is inspiring.David Shiffman