I recently saw a movie that opened my eyes to the horror of shark finning.
The movie is Sharkwater (www.sharkwater.com).
Shark finning is the process of catching a shark, slicing off its fins, and dumping it back in the water. Often the shark is returned to the water still alive, left to drown at the bottom of the sea. The video footage of this was heartbreaking.
It is estimated that shark finning has in a very short time reduced the global shark populations by 90%. Roughly 100 million sharks are killed each year intentionally or as bycatch. At this rate, extinction is all but assure.
And it’s all because of shark fin soup.
The Chinese have attached many fictional medicinal benefits to shark fin soup but the soup is also something that wealthy Chinese consume to show off just how wealthy they are. I guess you could call it Chinese caviar.
Ironically, the shark fin itself is flavorless.
While there are people on this planet who try to protect elephants and whales and albatross, there are only a few people looking out for the sharks. This movie is a step in that direction. I did not realize what an important role sharks play in keeping our oceans healthy, so we humans have much at stake in keeping sharks healthy.
Two years ago, Disney opened Disneyland Hong Kong and it came under a great deal of pressure from groups outside of Asia for serving shark fin soup. I wrote about it then. Fortunately, Disney took shark fin soup off its menu. But how many other Western companies are doing business in China in ways that also support this practice?
Yahoo is one. It owns nearly 30% of Alibaba — the “eBay of China” — which recently went public to the tune of US$1.5 billion. Alibaba allows small businesses to trade in shark fins. You can read a BusinessWeek article here. Says the article:
Alibaba, which has more than 180 companies engaged in buying or selling shark fins, is “the New York Stock Exchange of shark fins,” says Douglas. Adds Wolfgang Leander, a 66-year-old diver and director of shark preservation at the Ocean Realm Society, a lobbying group based in Florida’s New Smyrna Beach, “They are offering the shark fin traders a very convenient platform to do business.”
Here is an ad for shark fins I grabbed from Alibaba:
When you see the poor fisherman who do this sort of thing, you can understand that they’re only trying to survive. But what excuse does Yahoo have for supporting this activity?
Yahoo might say that it is simply localizing its business for the Chinese market. After all, this is a legal business in China so why shouldn’t Yahoo support it?
Why? Because Yahoo doesn’t just do business in China. And therein lies one of the great challenges of doing business in this global age. Disney, to its credit, changed it ways in China in order to keep its customers in other countries feeling good about being Disney customers.
Right now, I don’t feel too good about being a Yahoo customer.
Yahoo needs to pressure Alibaba to drop this line of business. It may not do much to stop the shark fin industry, but it will send a strong message — and it certainly won’t hurt.
There are 18 countries that have banned shark finning, but this is not an easy thing to police. International waters are, well, international, so there’s not much that can be done from the enforcement side. Long-term solutions must come from the demand side of the equation.
The Internet is at its best when it focuses global attention on human rights and environmental issues — and this is a huge one. The Internet is at its worst when it facilitates — or accelerates — a practice such as shark finning.
If you get a chance to see the movie, please do so. I was not one who would have felt much compassion for sharks prior to seeing this film, but I am now deeply troubled by their plight.
I’m also going to write to Yahoo.
Here is some further reading: