This week, Venezuela’s minister of land and agriculture outlawed shark finning and established a shark sanctuary. The South American country is the last in the Americas to ban the cruel and unsustainable practice, whereby live sharks’ fins are removed and then returned to sea to die slowly.
The new 1,440 square mile sanctuary surrounds the Los Roques Archipelago, a popular tourist destination. According to scientists, the area is an important breeding ground and nursery for several shark species, including the Caribbean reef shark and the lemon shark. Because sharks spend their first few years in shallow, near-shore waters where they are closest to people and most apt to be caught, it is vital to shark conservation to protect their nurseries. Therefore these measures could have wide-ranging, positive effects for shark conservation.
Although shark fins are unsafe to eat due to their high levels of mercury and a neurotoxin implicated in neurodegenerative conditions called BMAA, or Beta-methylamino-L-alanine, scientists estimate that up to 73 million sharks die yearly because of the demand for shark fin soup, particularly in China and Southeast Asia. Venezuela still allows shark fishing outside the sanctuary, but in accordance with these new rules, any and all fins must still be attached to the shark.
Hopefully, these new measures are the first of many which will protect sharks and elevate their status to one which does not include food.