Sharks have swum in every ocean on Earth for more than 400 million years. After nature took so much time to perfect the most complex marine predator, humans are wiping them out at a record pace. While efforts to end killing sharks for their fins or for trophies are ongoing, there’s one industry that continually kills sharks with little public awareness.
The commercial fishing industry is known to cause major-scale deaths of whales, dolphins, and turtles, but shark deaths are often overlooked. In the 1990s, more than 12 million sharks and rays were caught annually as “bycatch,” or untargeted species, in international waters alone. That number has increased to an estimated 50 million sharks caught unintentionally each year, about half as many sharks as the estimated 100 million sharks killed by the commercial fishing industry per year for meat and fins.
Fishing vessels in the North Atlantic primarily fishing for tuna and swordfish can use 100-kilometer-long baiting lines, holding up to 1,200 hooks. Sharks and commercial fishing boats cross paths an estimated 80 percent of the time. With populations of tuna and other fish declining, sharks are caught in these long lines an estimated 20 percent of the time. That’s right: One in every five fish caught on these long lines is a shark.
In July 2016, dozens of juvenile bull sharks were killed unintentionally in gill nets in Alabama, an incredibly painful death for the pups in Mobile Bay, an important shark nursery. According to Oceana, dusky shark populations have declined a staggering 85 percent due to bycatch and overfishing. Great white sharks, a particularly vulnerable species, are often killed in long lines and gill nets off the coast of California.
If we truly want to save the ocean’s most fascinating creatures, we must stop supporting the industries that are destroying them. This means we must stop eating fish.
Luckily, it’s never been easier to keep fish and all other animal products off our plates. For amazing, sea-inspired vegan recipes, click here.