A joint report by the British wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and the US Pew Environment Group essentially called the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) a failure. The report, released last week, says that Indonesia, India, Spain, Taiwan and 16 other major shark-catching countries and entities are responsible for this failure.
Indonesia is No. 1 on the report’s list of the top 20 shark catchers with 13 percent of the global catch, followed by India (9 percent), Spain (7.3 percent) and Taiwan (5.8 percent). Together, these top 20 countries and entities catch 640,000 tonnes of shark every year, accounting for 80 percent of the global catch. As a result, almost one-third of all shark species are close to extinction.
The main reason for the diminishing shark populations is the East Asian taste for shark’s fin. Chinese see it as a delicacy and Taiwanese consume large amounts of shark’s fin every year, causing many sharks to be killed to meet this massive demand. A quick look at shark fin dishes on the menus in many restaurants shows why the number of sharks being killed must be huge.
Even more tragic is the way many shark fishermen simply cut off the valuable fins and throw the rest of the fish back into the sea to save space on their boats. Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency clearly forbids this practice, requiring vessels to transship and offload fins and carcasses together and ensuring that the fin-to-whole-body weight ratio does not exceed 5 percent. This year, even stricter rules will be put in place, stipulating that the shark bodies and fins must be offloaded together. Despite these measures, the number of sharks being killed remains large.
On Jan. 24, the Taiwanese branch of Greenpeace protested against a Taiwanese-owned but foreign- registered tuna freighter, Longyun, at a harbor in Greater Kaohsiung. Although the protest violated international maritime transport regulations and harbor security regulations, the protection and conservation of ocean ecology is a matter of great concern.
Today is Lunar New Year’s Eve, and in many households the whole extended family will meet for a sumptuous dinner. While this is an important event for us, it is a disaster for many animals. Most Taiwanese enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and eat rich food. In fact, many eat so well that the incidence of people suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver and other health problems is rising. It isn’t really necessary to eat and drink so much on Lunar New Year’s Eve, because aside from adding to our own and our family’s burden, it is also contributing to the destruction of the global environment and increasing Taiwan’s carbon footprint.
If we all could eat just a little bit more healthily, we would all be a bit healthier. We would also save global resources and kill fewer animals by not eating shark’s fin or bird’s nest soup. By doing this, we could protect sharks, whales and other creatures that are on the verge of extinction — a choice that would make us, our families and the world winners. Beginning this New Year’s Eve, let us all start saving the world by thinking about what we eat.