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Why shark finning isn't that different from American animal agriculture

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JULY 29, 2019

Shark finning is the process of slicing off the fins and tails from sharks — often while they are still alive — and discarding the rest of the carcass back into the sea. Sharks are often finned to meet demand for Chinese delicacies such as shark fin soup or shark fin dumplings. As a country that doesn’t consume shark meat on the scale that China does, most of us in the United States perceive shark finning to be abhorrent and unethical. Videos of writhing carcasses being carelessly tossed overboard and images of blood pooling around the decks of fishing boats sparks feelings of disgust, horror and even anger. However, the ethics and environmental impact of shark finning have many parallels to the industry that meets the demand for meat and meat products in America: animal agriculture.

We’re quick to judge shark finning because it’s part of a culture we’re not familiar with.

It doesn’t make sense to us that 73 million sharks are caught and released for their fins — we don’t understand why millions of people would support an industry that’ll decimate the entire oceanic food chain. But we’re not willing to accept that even more animals are mistreated within our borders and that our own food industry at home will do more damage to the environment than shark finning ever will. The causes of this inconsistency could be due to myriad reasons: We lack awareness about the consequences of American animal agriculture, our enjoyment of meat/meat products overshadows our concern for animal welfare and the environment, and/or shark consumption doesn’t fit into our sociocognitive model of what’s typical. 

When we see or hear about shark finning, it’s hard to consider that fishermen aren’t butchering live animals in order to be wanton or cruel.

It’s simply the most efficient and lucrative way for them to make a living. Although it’s natural to assign blame to individuals directly involved in brutalizing sharks, the true offenders are the people who consume shark fins. If a fisherman can earn more money selling shark fins than other fish, they’re going to do so because they have mouths to feed at home. The number of shark fins being caught won’t decrease because protesters decry the people who catch sharks. It’ll decrease if the demand for shark fins continues to decrease to the point where it’s not cost-effective to keep hunting them. 

We’re selectively aware of different types of meat consumption.

If you’ve ever seen or heard of movies like “Cowspiracy,” “What the Health” or really any video by PETA, you’re aware of the environmental and ethical ramifications of meat consumption. You’ve seen cattle being pushed around or chickens whose undersides are practically coated in feces. Even if you can make your peace with how animals are treated, facts like “animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined exhaust from all transportation” will make you stop and think. Similarly, shark finning will only stop once consumers have enough awareness to stop eating them. 

I’m not writing this article to convince you to stop eating meat. I’m an avid consumer of beef, chicken and pork. Recipes I’ve posted on this blog call for eggs and butter, and I recommend Top Dog because they know how to make a great garlic frankfurter. But I do try my best to stick to meatless Mondays. Most importantly, I believe it’s important to know where your food comes from. People who eat meat or fish should experience hunting, butchering and cooking an animal. It’s important to know that your chicken wings were once part of a living thing or that your milk and cheese were produced by an animal. Part of eating right means not only doing what’s right for your diet, but also what’s right for the environment around you. As the effects of climate change become more and more prevalent, sustainability will have to play a larger part of our collective lifestyle. So go ahead and eat at In-N-Out, or treat yourself to a nice steakhouse. I encourage you to do so. But also consider the impact of the process that puts delicious foods on your plate. 

Contact Abhi Varma at [email protected].

JULY 29, 2019