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Shark fin soup threatens to wipe out the world’s oldest predator and damage consumer health

International conservation group WildAid and the Singapore Environment Council today launched a new report and public service campaign to raise the alarm that sharks continued to be slaughtered in vast numbers to supply shark fin soup. Analysis of trade data indicated that fins from between 40 to 70 million sharks are being used annually for soup.

There are currently 126 shark species (one third) classified as being at risk of extinction either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Nine more species were added in the last few months; the scalloped hammerhead, the common and big-eyed thresher, the short-fin mako, the silky, the smooth hammerhead, the dusky, the tiger and the bull shark.

The groups stated that while many people in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan had reduced eating it due to conservation, health and animal cruelty concerns the market was vast and growing due to China's economic boom. A recent survey found that 35% of urban Chinese stated they had consumed it in the last year, while 75% were unaware it came from sharks (as opposed to other fish).

WildAid director Peter Knights stated "It is tragic that sharks have ruled the world's oceans for nearly 400 million years and yet we may destroy them in one human life time. The scale of demand for shark fin far outstrips the supply leading to illegal fishing and decimated populations. This will also damage marine ecosystems and other fish stocks." New studies have shown that overfishing of sharks can lead to drastic declines in shellfish.

"Many people are shocked by the process known as finning where only fins are taken and carcasses dumped at sea wasting up to 99% of the animal, others are shocked to learn that shark fin often has high levels of mercury. We can all help conserve sharks and protect marine eco-systems, by not consuming shark fin soup." said Howard Shaw of the Singapore Environment Council.

The groups released new findings that fins randomly purchased from retailers and tested by independent laboratories showed excessive levels of the toxin mercury in a number of cases. "Sharks are top of the food chain and are long lived, this means they have amongst the highest mercury burden of any fish according to studies by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. In addition mercury binds to protein and shark fin is mainly protein. No amount of cooking removes this poison." Said Knights.

Around 1/3 of samples collected in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan had levels of mercury in excess of World Health Organization standards.

Pregnant women are particularly at risk and in California sellers of fish must post warnings that meat from sharks and other predatory fish can contain high levels of mercury.

The groups called for similar action in Singapore.

"Warnings should be posted wherever shark fin is served for women who are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant." Said Shaw.

A number of prominent Olympic stars have pledged to never eat shark fin soup and recorded messages currently being aired internationally, NBA star Yao Ming has lead the campaign with swimmers Amanda Beard, Tara Kirk, diver Li Ting and Zhou Jihong, gymnast Li Ning, table tennis champion Liu Xuan. The groups also released new footage of the fishing and finning of sharks.