Many species of shark are facing a serious threat to their existence because of worldwide fishing trends, environmentalists said Wednesday.
Fishermen "used to cut the lines and let sharks go," said Pete Kinghts, executive director of WildAid, a San Francisco-based conservation group, told a shark conservation conference. In recent years, however, fishermen have kept the sharks to sell their lucrative fins.
One-third of the more than 500 shark species are threatened with extinction or are close to being threatened, said Sarah Fowler of the World Conservation Union.
The practice is particularly crude and cruel, critics say. The "finners" pull the sharks onto the boat, hack off some or all of their four fins, then throw the shark, usually still alive, back into the water. Unable to swim, the sharks sink to the bottom of the sea and die.
"Not only is it horrible to look at," says Peter Knights, the executive director of Wildaid, a conservation group, "but it's sheer waste. Ninety-five percent of the shark is thrown overboard."
A struggling park halfway across the world has turned to Sequoia National Park for help in preserving a war-torn region that covers thousands of acres of rain forest and is home to some of the last Asian elephants and Asiatic bears on Earth.
Cambodia's Samlaut park was a Khmer Rouge stronghold until 10 years ago, and today its future is threatened by poachers, loggers and public indifference.
NBA star Yao Ming pledged Wednesday to give up eating shark's fin soup, a Chinese delicacy, as he joined a campaign to promote wildlife protection. "Endangered species are our friends," Yao said at a news conference organized by the London-based conservation group WildAid.
The group said China is the world's biggest importer of shark's fins, which conservationists say are cut from sharks that are thrown back into the ocean to die.
Today, leading Chinese stars - Yao Ming, Li Ning and Liu Huan jointly launched WildAid's public awareness campaign to protect endangered species and in particular sharks from high levels of consumption, which threaten them with extinction.