By Intan Tanjung, Stevie Emilia
The decline of most shark species in the world is largely blamed on the practice of shark finning for shark-fin soup — a popular delicacy that symbolizes wealth, power, prestige and honor dating back to the Ming Dynasty.
Sharks mature slowly and are known to have low-reproductive rates.
The practice of shark finning — in which sharks are killed by cutting their fins and throwing their dead bodies back to the bottom of the sea — and overfishing might put this species in danger of extinction.
Activists worldwide have spearheaded campaigns to discourage the killing of sharks.
Shark guardian, A UK charity based in Thailand, founded by directors Brendon Sing and his wife Liz, recently visited Bali schools to talk to students and more than 30 women at Bali Wise in Nusa Dua about the importance of sharks in maintaining long-term tourism benefits in Bali.
It is estimated that about 100 millions sharks are killed each year to serve the demand for shark fins, the main ingredient for the soup.
Indonesia is the number one shark fin exporting country. Overfishing and killing endangered sea creatures, such as hammerhead sharks, dolphins, manta rays and turtles, is common practice, as seen in many fish markets across the country.
The government issued a ministerial decree on shark protection status in May last year, which stipulates that whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), which can grow to more than 12 meters long and live up to 100 years old, have full protection status, meaning that killing it for any reason is strictly prohibited.
Other shark species, including the large tooth sawfish (Pristis microdon) and the thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus); also have protected status under other government regulations.
Regulations on shark protection fall under the government’s compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a multilateral treaty created in a 1963 meeting of World Conservation Union (IUCN) members.
Indonesia ratified the endangered species convention in 1973 and adopted it into a presidential decree, No. 43/1978, which allows Indonesia to issue and implement regulations on endangered species in line with that international treaty.
“Illegal fishing boats are coming in, depleting Indonesia’s resources, putting the country at losses,” said Paul Friese, founder of Bali Sharks.
In mid-2013, the Chinese government’s antigraft move in which money spent on banquets was reduced resulted in a 70 percent decline in shark-fin soup consumption.
Still, Friese said the ban had no bearing on the amount of sharks being killed for its fins in Indonesia. “[Fishermen] will catch and kill most anything they see as they assume it is worth some sort of value even if the fish are never consumed,” he said.
However, he did think that economically, fin inventory would back up in China and that pricing or value could drastically fall.
Killing sharks and removing them from the coral reef ecosystem would increase the number of larger predatory fish feeding on herbivores, scientists said.
Without the presence of those herbivore fish, the ecosystem will collapse and shift to one algae dominance, destroying corals and the reef system.
Steve Woods of the Gili Shark Foundation said healthy marine condition could also bring high economic value for tourism, especially dive tourism.
Every year, tourists specifically come to Bali and Gili to see important ocean species, such as sharks, manta rays and sunfish as well as dolphins.
“These animals are so important to the local economy, so important to the marine ecosystem, yet so important to the world. Indonesia is the last place where they got these sharks, we need to protect them now,” Woods said.