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.