A ton of shark fins: overfishing and sustainability

One of the images captured this week in Hong Kong by the conservationist Gary Stokes.

My home of the San Francisco Bay Area was home to a huge bust of illegal shark fins– possessing and selling them is now banned as of last July. At over a ton, it’s the largest seizure by two orders of magnitude.

Shark fin soup is a famous Asian delicacy, and commands high prices. The law, however, makes this just a misdemeanor. Even with a record fine, it will be dwarfed by the value of the fins and how easily they can be sold given the right connections.

Of all the aspects of environmental protection, ocean management is among the most depressing. Here’s a fantastic animated video made by a European group that shows how much current fishing exceeds scientifically-determined limits for sustainability. European nations still overfish, while poorer nations have less regulation and more dependence on fish for day-to-day survival.

This is a dilemma that I have noticed, though I don’t know if it has a formal name. West Virginia is another example; like coastal towns they are built around a practice that is not healthy for the global environment. Mountaintop removal and coal mining sustain parts of the state, but coal is a huge cause of air pollution and contributes to climate change. Thus any attempt to advocate an environmentally sound approach is a “job killer.”

The anti-coal movement in America has been wildly successful, especially compared to approaches like cap-and-trade that can’t muster political support:

By the time Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared the cap-and-trade bill dead in July 2010, the Beyond Coal campaign had helped prevent construction of 132 coal plants and was on the verge of defeating dozens more. It had imposed, noted Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, “a de facto moratorium on new coal-fired power plants.”

Stopping new coal plants may be “the most significant achievement of American environmentalists since the passage of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act”

Overfishing, in comparison, has serious obstacles to overcome in all regions- and like opposing coal emission the most difficult step will be in the developing world. Besides redeveloping those places that depend on an unsustainable industry, improving the health of Earth’s oceans requires coastal countries to have food security. As with many big-picture problems, its solution is in fact a bunch of smaller, diverse solutions combined together.

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