In a bold move for shark conservation, Air China announced Friday in Beijing that it will no longer allow shark fin transportation on their airline. It may not seem significant, but luggage has been a primary means for the illegal distribution of shark fins. Airlines, for the most part, are not responsible for wildlife trade enforcement, and often let questionable cargo pass without resistance. However, this monumental step by one of China’s largest airlines was motivated by the company’s “longstanding commitment to playing [their] role in a more sustainable world” and the pressure put on them by shark advocates and ocean lovers.
As we have seen over the past decade, shark and ray populations have fallen victim to extravagant bouts of overfishing. And while surfers often have a complicated relationship with the naturally intimidating finned creatures we share the ocean with, we understand the vital role they play in keeping our oceans ecosystems healthy and wild.
A critical study conducted by the endangered species conservation group IUCN reports that sharks are at a greater risk than most other animal groups, with only 23% species considered safe. And while you’d assume the big bad shark shouldn’t have any problem taking care of itself, the reality seems to indicate otherwise. Sharks are targeted by fisherman both for their meat and their role as alpha predators in fisheries. Yet IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group, which includes 302 experts from 64 countries, identifies shark fin soup as a pressing and primary threat. The dish, favored among China’s wealthy class, fetches around $100 per bowl. CITES and other international moderators of the animal trade have put significant pressure on member nations to regulate fisheries, but the high price tag for fins is hard for many poor fishermen to ignore. But as demand surges, shark advocates have gotten creative by pressuring the infrastructure that perpetuates the problem.
With Air China’s updated policy, many hope other airlines and shipping agencies will similarly act against the illicit trade of shark fins. At least, for now, the tide may be turning for the world’s shark populations.
Editor’s Note: View our profile on shark conservationist Mike Coots, who lost his leg to a Tiger Shark in Kauai.