Man Bites Shark

BONN – Sharks have long been portrayed as man-eaters, a menace to any swimmer brave (or foolish) enough to share the water with them. But this depiction could not be further from reality. In fact, sharks are extremely vulnerable, and their dwindling populations – largely owing to human behavior – urgently need global protection.

To be sure, there have been many laudable shark-protection efforts in the last few years. A campaign spearheaded by the United States-based organization Wild Aid has contributed to a major decline in demand for shark fin across Asia. China, for example, has banned shark-fin soup, a traditional delicacy, at official government dinners and functions – a move that contributed to a 30% drop in shark-fin sales from last December to April. In the southern city of Guangzhou, the center of China’s shark-fin trade, vendors have reported an 82% decline in sales over the last two years.

It should not be difficult to spur countries to take action to protect their shark populations, given that a shark’s economic value plummets when it is killed. A study by the Australian Marine Institute found that Palau’s shark-diving industry is worth far more than its shark-fishing industry. A single reef shark that frequents major dive sites in Palau is worth roughly $179,000 annually, or $1.9 million over its lifetime; the same shark would be worth about $108 dead.

Similarly, the shark-diving industry has brought in an estimated $110 million annually to Thailand, $22 million to the Canary Islands, and a massive $800 million to the Bahamas over the last 20 years. It is not difficult to see why allowing fisherman to decimate these countries’ shark populations would be counter-productive.