How We Can Help Sharks, Right Here in Missouri
Published August 4, 2021
Article By: Taylor Meadows
When I’m asked about what I do, I respond that I’m a shark photographer and advocate. That response is always met with “you’re crazy!” or “I could never get in the water with a shark.” or even, “aren’t you afraid they’re going to eat you?” These responses are deeply rooted in society’s fear of sharks. I try to take the time to inform these people with the truth, that sharks are not monsters and are not killing machines, and I don’t fear them when I get in the water with them.
However, that fear and prejudice is not easily changed. When humans fear something so deeply, we want to control it so we feel safe. This mindset started a practice so cruel and inhumane, and is believed to have begun during the Chinese Song Dynasty (960-1279). It lasted through the centuries and has spread throughout the world. This cruel practice is the shark fin trade.
What is the Shark Fin Trade?
The shark fin trade is a multi-billion dollar industry that involves fishermen going out to sea, catching sharks, cutting off their fins, and throwing the living shark back in the ocean to die of starvation, suffocation, or predation. This trade was started to show wealth and power, stemming from the mindset that if one could kill such a “scary” creature only to use a small part of it, it shows power over the creature that has caused so much fear in people.
For a time, shark fin soup, which is the dish made from the fins, was only served to a few wealthy people and aristocrats in China. However, it is now served in restaurants around the world and has many more consumers, including the United States. About 100 million sharks are killed per year by the shark fin trade, and the global shark populations have declined by more than 71% since 1970 because of it. This should raise a sense of urgency in anyone who reads this, because sharks are absolutely crucial to a healthy ocean.
Why do we need a healthy ocean if we are in land-locked Missouri? Oceans generate over half of the oxygen that we breathe, which comes from algae and other photosynthetic organisms that live there. Oceans give us about ⅙ of the animal protein that we eat, and it also regulates our planet’s temperature due to wind patterns. The oceans contain about 97% of Earth’s water, and all of it takes part in the hydrologic (water) cycle, which is the continuous movement of water on, below, and above the earth’s surface. There are so many reasons why we need our oceans to be healthy, but these are just a few reasons.
The Shark Fin Trade in the U.S.
When I met the executive director of Shark Allies, Stephanie Brendl, she informed me that the shark fin trade happens in my state, in Missouri. I was absolutely shocked that a land-locked state could participate in the fin trade, but when we contacted the Animal Welfare Institute, we discovered that five restaurants in Missouri serve shark fin soup.
This is possible through a legal loophole. It is illegal to physically fin the sharks in US waters, but fishermen will go outside of US waters, fin the sharks, and bring the fins back to the States to be shipped to the designated restaurants.This ignited a fire in me, and I knew that we as Missourians needed to come together to help stop this cruel trade. So, I started No MO Shark Fins, which is a cause dedicated to educating and representing Missourians in the fight to get the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act passed in legislation. If (hopefully when) this act gets passed, it would ban the sale and possession of fins in the United States, not just Missouri. In 2019, this act passed the House of Representatives, and in 2021, it passed the Senate. We as a nation are making significant progress! However, we still need people to come together to raise awareness on the issue, and get this act officially passed as a law in the United States. If you are wondering how you can help support the fight against the fin trade, there are several things you can do.
First of all, never buy or consume shark fin soup. Not only does it support a cruel and wasteful trade, but shark meat contains a neurotoxin called BMAA, which is linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The fin also adds no flavor to the soup; all of the flavor comes from the pork or beef broth, and the fin merely adds texture.
Secondly, educate yourself and others. I have realized that a lot of Missourians have not even heard of the shark fin trade, let alone know that it is in our state and is causing devastation to our global shark populations.
Lastly, write to our representatives. Their job is ultimately to represent us, and their mailing addresses are only one Google search away. At this point in the progress of the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, I would strongly suggest writing to the President of the United States, Joe Biden. You can download this letter template with his address. Every letter matters. Stand with our sharks and our world, and help us stop the cruel, inhumane, and wasteful shark fin trade in the United States.
To learn more about the inhumane process of the shark fin trade, opens in a new windowwatch this video. Disclaimer: video contains graphic content and is password protected [Password: NoMOSharkFins!]. Also, help stop the cruel practice of shark finning by writing your own letter. opens in a new windowCLICK HERE to access the No MO Shark Fins letter template.