By Christopher Looft
Honduran authorities burnt over 100 shark fins seized from illegal fishermen in a public ceremony demonstrating their commitment to wiping out this lucrative illicit trade.
La Tribuna reported that President Porfirio Lobo and a group of top officials presided over the event, in which 114 fins from 57 sharks were stacked and burnt. Video footage of the event shows Lobo igniting the pile of fins with a burning torch.
The shark fins, which are often used in traditional medicine and considered a delicacy in East Asia, were seized by the Honduran Navy in April. A press release by the Pew Environmental Group claims that they could have been sold on the black market for as much as $300 per pound.
Lobo said Honduras is committed to stopping shark fishing in its own territory, which has been illegal since the country was declared a shark sanctuary in June 2011. "These animals play an important role in maintaining healthy coastal areas, our fisheries are dependent upon them, and they provide revenue by bringing tourists and divers to Honduras to see sharks. They are worth far more alive than dead," he said, according to the press release.
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Shark finning, in which the sharks' fins are removed -- often while the fish is still alive -- is a widespread practice in Central America. Such ceremonies are usually reserved for large drug seizures, and the president's participation is a sign of the prevalence of this trend.
Scientists estimate that some 70 million sharks are killed each year due to overfishing and the global fin trade.
Because of the popularity of the practice, shark finning constitutes a serious threat to Honduras' impressive range of shark species. According to La Tribuna, northern Honduras boasts 45 species of shark, while the south contains 11.
While the level of violence associated with the shark fin trade is minimal, activists attempting to raise awareness of the practice have been attacked and intimidated.