Overfishing, Sharks and Joe Perry

Common thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus)

Two members of Aerosmith recently got together with Sea Shepherd Australia, while on their “Global Warming” tour. It’s absolutely fantastic that high profile celebrities like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry are speaking up about issues like climate change and ocean conservation. These are incredibly important subjects that need to be tackled head on, and to put it simply, the more air-time they get the better. What later came as something of a surprise, was to stumble across a photograph of Joe Perry posing with a shark that he had caught on a fishing trip with the infamous “Mark the Shark”. It’s not clear when this shark was caught; and maybe rock stars are not the people we should be looking towards for guidance on moral integrity – as well as the fact that we all have done things which we later regret – but this has raised, yet again, the question of sport fishing versus industrial fishing.

Is any killing of endangered or threatened sharks wrong? Is it OK if the shark is not an endangered species? What about industrial fishing? Surely the number of sharks caught for sport is tiny compared to the tens of millions caught for food or just for their fins? Shouldn’t we be concentrating our attention on where the big problem is, ie industrial fishing? By not fishing for sharks or eating shark fin soup, many of us assume that our hands are clean and that we do not contribute to the slaughter of sharks. Yet industrial fishing companies routinely kill millions of sharks (as well as other marine animals) as bycatch – fish, birds and animals that are caught accidentally on longlines or in nets. It is very likely that sharks were killed in the process of catching the fish we buy in the supermarket, fishmonger or choose to eat at a restaurant.

So maybe it is hypocritical to point the finger at people like Joe Perry. Is catching a shark with your own bare hands worse than supporting an industry that kills millions of them? If we really care about sharks shouldn’t we all stop eating all fish and stop supporting an industry that kills millions of sharks every year?

There is no doubt that the decline in sharks has been greatly accelerated by the demand for shark fin soup. But there is a massive global overfishing problem, it is estimated that 80% of fish stocks are over- or fully exploited. Marine eco-systems are collapsing. This means that we will lose species – they will become extinct. It also means that the people who rely on fishing for their livelihood will lose their livelihood, and we will lose an important food source. Caring about sharks means caring about all fish. It’s all interconnected, the oceans are complicated webs of relationships and dependencies, you can’t take away one part and expect the rest to stay the same.

When you tell people who enjoy shark fin soup that they are contributing to the extinction of sharks, they react in one of three ways. They either laugh it off, they react angrily and reject what you are saying, or they ignore you and bury their head in sand. Unfortunately, peoples’ reactions are similar when told that eating fish contributes to the extinction of sharks. We don’t like to think that we are part of the problem, especially when we feel so passionately about sharks and the oceans.

But back to Joe Perry and fishing for sport. Perhaps the problem here is that it’s all too easy to find photos of people showing off with their trophy catches. Captains of fishing trawlers don’t tend to publish photographs of the bycatch they’ve thrown overboard. If they did we would probably be more outraged by that and pay less attention to Joe Perry’s hammerhead.

So, bottom line, should we be bashing Joe Perry and Mark the Shark, or should we instead be having a closer look at how our own eating habits affect the oceans? Well, sport fishing for sharks isn’t helping sharks, that’s for sure, but before we criticise too harshly, we should probably make sure that we are not inadvertently adding to the problem ourselves. Let’s try cutting out fish, or at the very least cutting down, and finding out more about the fish we buy. And maybe after we’ve done that we can have a pop at the “tough guys” with their dead shark trophies.


  1. I just don’t eat any sea animals or any animals at all for that matter.

    • That is the safest way! It is important that we all think about the processes involved in getting the food onto our plates.

  2. lizard says:

    The root cause of all overfishing and destruction of the biosphere is the human overpopulation which is caused by the unnatural anthropocentric worldview!
    Hunting/Trophy fishing is of course also contributing to the problem and the second cause of extinction of species, for example: see extinction of all big predators like wolves, bears, lynx, birds of prey like golden eagles, withe-tailed eagles; alpine ibex, aurochs, wisent etc. in Europe; in the USA the wolves, brown bears, wolverines; bisons etc. , In China, India and so on, the Tiger, Snow Leopard, Persian Leopard, Great Panda, Pangolino, Orang- utan etc..
    The human population explosion is interlocked with habitat destruction and fragmentation od wilderness and humans take away and convert every habitable inch of the planet in urban land sprawal or monocultures land overloaded with pesticides, herbizides and fertilizers, which causes the lakes, rivers and oceans to turn into dead zones with low and non existend oxygen because of the unnatural nutritional overload in those regions.
    Everybody who is saying that we can put much more people on this planet, is either an idiot or a fool and relying on genetically unnatural programming.
    The anthropocentric worldview is completely unnatural and is the cause for the human overpopulation and the disregard for nature which is the live support system of this planet and the driver of evolution, our knowledge which all comes from nature, the observation and study of nature, drugs, medicine and technology all comes from it.
    Humans view nature as a property for humans alone and just as a resource to exploit. But it is not!
    Everybody should fight for nature/the biosphere and this planet and theit non-human inhabitants!
    We have to overcome this taboo and finally recognize that everything in this ecosystem, on this planet, in this cosmos, all living beings in this universe are connected and that there is no stillstand. That evolution always goes on that that every species has its right and place in the ecosystem and its right to evolve and develope their evolutionary potential.
    Wilderness is a natural self-organizing ecosystem state.
    Otherwise we destroy ourselves or will be destroyed.
    I just hope that humans finally become reasonable.
    If not I sincerely hope that the “breakaway civiliaztion” and/or the “Others” do something before this planet and its non-human inhabitants are completely destroyed.

Make your voice count, leave a comment.