The lucrative shark fin industry enables Andy and his family and cousins’ family to support themselves for over three months following each one of these five day fishing expeditions. With little financial support from the PNG government they need all the cash they can get to keep up with school fees, doctors bills and – judging by the lean look they all carry – food that comes last on that list.
However, the oceans are being too rapidly emptied by fishing operations much larger than Andy’s. A chance encounter in the middle of the Marovo Lagoon in the Solomon Islands with Michael Sutton, the Director of the impressively named American Organisation ‘Centre for the Future of the Oceans’ was most uplifting and informative. Michael has been actively fighting against the shark fin trade for some time now; in fact at the time of our meeting he was waiting to hear the result of a long campaign in which he and his Lobbyist (the gregarious Patrick who bounces into the scene) have been pushing to introduce the ‘Shark Fin Bill’ in the Californian Senate.
Michael, usually based in Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, is visiting the Solomon Islands with “a bunch of very mad dive enthusiasts from Hong Kong” that carry out his plight in Asia. He estimates that there are over 70 million sharks slaughtered yearly for the fin trade worldwide, very few of which are humanely killed before having their fins sliced off – most get de-finned alive then dumped back in the water with a kick, sinking to their deaths by drowning finless on the sea floor. He has even heard of the magnificent giant whale sharks getting harpooned just for their enormous fins, taking three slow and bloody days to die.
He sums up the devastation of shark population as ‘serial depletion’, and warns that we are creating a huge hole in the delicate eco-system by destroying a massive percentage of the main predators of the oceans. Too many fishing companies are taking advantage of the ‘out of sight out of mind’ philosophy whereby the average Joe has no idea that this carnage is taking place out in the vast ocean, but it is time for people to recognise the seriousness of the slaughter that is happening every day in every stretch of ocean all over the world.
Thanks to people like Michael word is getting out. He even has new support from China, the main destination for the dried shark fin, saying that the younger generation seems to be a lot more environmentally aware than their elders who are the ones creating the demand and setting the high prices. It will take time for new legislation to filter down to the world fishing industry, here’s hoping that soon this savage trade will be banned before the subtle equilibrium of the oceans is completely wrecked.
I shake Patrick and Michael’s hands and thank them for their time and information as they are getting ready to go for another dive amongst the beautiful sharks they are working so hard to protect. “You don’t feel threatened swimming in shark infested waters?” I ask. “No, no not at all” replies Michael, “in fact they are very misunderstood creatures and are seldom a problem unless they start to feel threatened. If there is a change in their behaviour I just make sure I am swimming close behind Patrick, my Lobbyist. To date there has never been a known shark attack on a lawyer!”