Mike Baillie
Mike Baillie

Why isn’t shark finning news?

I saw six sharks being cut up for their fins yesterday. And as monstrous as it was, it won’t make headlines, it isn’t News: currently the fins from between 26 million and 73 million sharks are sold a year, that’s up to 8 000 sharks killed an hour. And the market is booming.

I’m currently sailing with Greenpeace in the Mozambican channel where we are working with Mozambican fisheries inspectors, providing them with a platform to patrol their waters for illegal and unlicensed fishing activities.

The shark finning happened during a second ship inspection for the day, this time it was a Japanese longliner that was out for tuna and tuna-like species. We were about 200km from shore in an area of water that Mozambican officials can’t often patrol for a number of reasons.

Fishermen lean over the side to gaff a blue shark and bring it on board. The crew on board, about 20 or so, was friendly enough, and they were just getting ready to haul in their lines – their incredibly long lines. We’re talking a fishing line 120km long with a shorter line leading off it every 40m to 50m. Each of those lines has a baited silver hook on the end; 3 000 hooks altogether. To put in perspective, the length of the line is an hour’s drive in a fast car, passing a hook every two seconds. It’s fed out the back of the ship early in the day and slowly hauled in from just before sunset.

During inspection we found a rack of drying shark fins that had been strung up. I counted about 30 sets of fins, many of them still fresh. The ship’s licence allows for sharks to be caught, but fins cannot be more than 5% of the total shark catch. Technically sharks are still classed as “by catch” – on paper they aren’t seen as a target species in the way that tuna is. However as the demand for shark fin continues to rise, so does the price, and shark fins have become a hot commodity.

On deck the various tools and implements were all laid out and the wheels started pulling in the line. I was standing up on a raised platform that looked down on the fishing deck; a bird’s eye view of the crew’s well-rehearsed movements. There was no talking or shouting. The crew had surely done this dance a thousand times before, and they’d keep doing it for at least the next 12 hours, that’s how long it takes to pull in a stretch of line 120km long.

The first catch was a blue shark, and for this too, the crew has a dance. A group of men huddle together at the place where fish are gaffed and pulled onto the ship. I wonder about them: how much are they paid to do this, how long are they away from families? One of the men is easily 60 years old and he’s doing the same as all the others, pulling, passing, unclipping, packing, working a 12-hour shift. He has a cloth rolled up as a headband and stoops a little when he walks. Perhaps he shows the others how it’s done and loves his job. Maybe he hates it.

The shark’s dragged on board, still alive. It’s a good catch. When it’s all over later, the photographer will point out to me that the shark’s eyes were closed the whole time. But that’s surely just instinct, I hope. Her head is cut off, and then come the fins. A 200kg animal slaughtered for a kilogram or two, for soup. Eight thousand times an hour – like I said, this isn’t news. It happens all the time, and it’s completely legal. A shark is butchered for fins, then disembowelled, her babies wriggling on the deck.

For more images, click here.

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  • Optimism vs. realism regarding the future
  • ‘Only when the last fish has been caught, will you realise that you cannot eat money’
  • Is humanity a rational species?
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    • Just Saying

      Human beings are the worst thing that happened to earth. Sis!
      “A shark is butchered for fins, then disemboweled, her babies wriggling on the deck”
      This is so sad.
      Earth is doomed, and NO HUMAN has the power or will to change it!

    • Momma Cyndi

      The shark was lucky that they killed it, most of the time the simply lop off the fins and throw the poor thing back to drown.

      As to why, that is simple. They aren’t cute and cuddly and the movie Jaws made them scary.

    • David

      The Chinese population is growing and growing, so it is very likely we will see many shark species extinct. Shark fin soup is favoured around Chinese New Year and is somewhat of a ‘status symbol’. Just Saying, you are right. We’re making a complete mess of the world….

    • judy

      all about money/ work

    • Enough Said

      Good to hear from you on Thoughtleader again Mike Baillie. Greenpeace do fantastic work. Keep on keeping on.

    • MLH

      No words!

    • beachcomber

      Congratulations on your work Mike ….. although there are many wonderful individual human beings, I personally have given up trying to understand the human species and it’s desire to kill anything that moves and eat it.

    • monique Giannikos

      What the hell! Terrible, absolutly terrible.

    • beach bum

      Thank you for highlighting this environmental tragedy, Mike. Closer to home, would you care to comment on the relentless and indiscriminate slaughter of sharks and other marine species by the Sharks Board?

    • beach bum

      Shark finning is big news in Canada.

      Canada has a large Asian population, and many cities have banned (Totonto and Calgary being the largest) or are in the process of banning (Vancouver) shark fin soup.

      It’s still a drop in the ocean, but a start …..


      I would encourage South Africans to boycott restaurants that sell shark fin soup.

      Thanks again for raising the issue, Mike.

    • http://maritimebooks.co.za Nick Dekker


      South Africa has a lengthy coastline, 1350 nautical miles, 2500km, along which flows the most fertile seawater that Gaïa has bestowed upon us living. The biological richness of our surrounding sea has at times been remarked upon but has never been considered as very noteworthy. Since the first European set foot on what is now South Africa, no one has realised the enormous wealth that surrounds us as seawater. Escaped slaves from the Cape Town area, who managed to hide near Hangklip and Hawston, were the first to know about the abundance of fine fish that were there for the catching. After WW2 fishing companies started up the robbery of our coastal seas and have not stopped since. After more than 70 years of destructive fishing there are still fish left which is proof of our seas’ fertility. The most awful aspect of the fishing methods employed is how pilchards or sardines are caught and destroyed.
      In the beginning of the 20th century American fisherman discovered enormous shoals of sardine along the west coast of South America. Shoals of a thousand tons or more. What to do with these vast quantities of fish? In the Mediterranean, sardine had been fished since Egyptian times and are still caught today. Have a look in some small ports of the Costa Brava in the early morning. The boats come in with a few tons of fish; all carefully packed in shallow boxes and as soon ashore, are covered with ice flakes. In no time, all is auctioned and everyone in town…

    • Jean Wright

      Horrific! What can one do to stop this (apart from boycotting Chinese Restaurants)?. Unspeakable

    • David

      We have no problems fishing out all the fish that the sharks eat, but we do have a problem with eating sharks. Fish are fish.

      People dont have a problem with people killing sharks as the shark can also be a predator of humans. Hence the lack of sympathy.

      To all those backwards people saying that humanity is the worst thing to happen to the earth. Grow up. Humanity will probably be instrumental and a keystone species in the long term survival of life in this universe.

      Let me explain this to you as I am sure you wont understand by yourself. In the next couple of billion years, our sun will run out. If life has not found a way to live in the cosmos ALL LIFE WILL DIE OUT. There are no ifs and buts about this. This is fact and it is going to happen. I honestly do not think evolution has enough time to produce another space faring species in time. We are most likely life`s last chance to expand to the stars and to make sure life continues beyond the lifespan of our planet.

      Think ahead people. If we all made mud huts and sat around in drum circles the whole day… in time… every plant and animal will be destroyed. There wont even be anyone or anything around to remember that we even existed.

      For life to last long term it needs humanity and it needs humanities technology.

      Im asking people to think a bit here. Think ahead. Dont be so short sighted.

    • Jack Sparrow

      Thanks for this Mike. Sadly I see Africa as a future wasteland with regard to indigenous species.

    • Just Saying

      David, LOL!!!

      Sorry, but humans do not have the common sense to fix all this. Only our creator can!

    • Mike Baillie


      I think you made one good point, and the rest, well…
      You’re right that we do need to get better at thinking longterm, but I think you’ve missed the mark in terms of what we need to be thinking about.

      The bottom line is that the collapse of the earth’s ecosystem is a far more immanent threat than the collapse of the sun is. If we don’t start thinking more carefully about the impact that humans are having on earth, the sun’s future demise will be the least of our worries — we won’t be around to have to worry about it.

      No habitable earth, no humans — we need the earth if we are to survive, and currently we are eliminating the fabric which makes life on earth possible.

    • Nicholas

      boo hoo hoo! Cry me a river…..

      Where is your article on HUMAN ABORTIONS. Helpless little babies being MURDERED at a rate of 40 million per year. Where are the boycotts and uprisings against that???

    • nguni

      Excuse me while (almost) all here are being so PC, but the basic problem is NOT the sun that is going to burn out in 10 billion years, the problem NOW is the 1.3 billion Chinese who are getting so affluent that they are forcing this stripping of the seas. And the rhino horns. Those folks have always eaten anything that moves. What’s next on the menu, that will disappear from our shores, let’s see: snakes? Monkey brains? Dogs? – preferably beaten up beforehand in a bag!
      120km long fishing lines? – For Pete’s sake, that must be illegal? If not, extend the national fishing territory to1000 miles off shore. Or destroy those ships -surely Sea Shepherd could help?

    • The dictator to save you from yourselves

      Everyone stop breeding – NOW. By law only gay or non reproductive forms of sex are allowed. That’s it.

    • nguni

      Looking at what Nick Dekker wrote you can work out that it takes just 21 of those 120km long lines to completely encircle our SA coastline. Even taking the 200 mile limit into consideration it gives an indication of how quickly the local seas could be stripped. What’s the story on sardines & pichards being destroyed, Nick?

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      So it’s completely legal? It’s monitored by the hysteric organisations like Greenpeace (who do not really have the jurisdiction, or do they?) and it happens?

      Are the sharks endangered? Apparently not.

      Perhaps it’s not surprising that people doing something legal is not news? Especially when endangered species are not involved and third parties are allowed to inspect the operation too?

      I’m inclined to agree with David, who is in fact thinking about the long term. It’s not feasible for us to keep all the species we currently have alive and roaming free. It’s imperative that we investigate space travel.

    • roy fenton

      your logic is typical of a man who cant take action , who cant accept responsibility for his actions . Its easy to adopt a nonsensical logic like that and use it as an excuse to trample nature , destroy life and generally act in a selfish way . Youd like to deny that global warming via the anthropogenic greenhouse effect is a myth , that 25% species extinction is a myth and that killing anything is justifiable .In short its time for you to become extinct.

    • Jean Mackenzie

      Good to bring this to the public’s attention again. The cruelty that is inflicted on these creatures is horrific and should be made illegal. There was a petition a year ago or so about precisely this and it needs to be constantly brought to the public’s attention. Thanks for doing so!!!

    • ace ventura

      I hugged a shark the other day and it bit my arms off. I type this message by biting into a stick and using it to press the keys on my keyboard.

      Still I love sharks. Saw a couple of people getting munched up by sharks on you tube… by accident. Sharks don’t actually eat people. Thats a myth. Sharks actually only eat vegetables and only rarely nibble on beef bait and humans when they really really want to sharpen their teeth… or test nibble a cubic meter of sample yummy.

      Sharks also make elegant desktop pictures and makes great funding for universities who run dry or bored.

      The nice image of sharks = this. its profit. There are two sharks in the church choir and they seem really okay.

      We love sharks. let them eat all the fish

    • Mike Baillie

      @Garg Unzola:

      Shark numbers have declined by 80% worldwide, with one-third of shark species now at risk of extinction. It’s not a case of shark finning being legal — it’s that regulations haven’t kept up with the rapid increase in demand for shark fins. The issue is still coming to light and being exposed in the indian ocean. Regulations will follow (as is currently happening in the EU, slowly), but we risk populations going extinct before the right regulations and monitoring systems are in place.

      Greenpeace was in Mozambique, working with the government, who does have jurisdiction to board ships and inspect them. Thanks to organisations like Greenpeace, shark finning is becoming an issue. The regions that Greenpeace are currently monitoring in the Indian Ocean have not been monitored by NGOs in the past — this is the first time that an organisation is exposing what’s happening inside the waters of coastal states and high seas in the region.

    • Momma Cyndi

      A lot of those commenting seem to have missed the idea that, not only are certain shark species under threat but they are apex predators. Yes, mankind doesn’t take kindly to being eaten instead of doing the eating but they are the markers of the health of their environment.

      There was a very interesting article a few years back about the coast of (I stand under correction) Florida where intensive shark culling had taken place. As a result, the ray population got out of control which, in turn, devastated the mollusk population – all that affected both human and fish feeding – it is all connected. The more we fiddle with the natural chain, the worse things get and the worse things get, the more we suffer as humans. If you don’t care about the sharks, at least spare a thought for yourselves

    • Judith

      Thank you Momma Cyndi for your sane voice in this! Sharks are vital to the maintenance of the health of the seas and the fisheries. Very few people are killed by sharks every year. However if sharks are made extinct, we may find that we have a decline in the shellfish and fish that we would like to catch to eat.

      Thank you Mike for an excellent article, I think there needs to be an intense educational programme launched in the Far East, so that those previously extremely oppressed and exploited people begin to understand that they have a responsibility to preserve biodiversity. It’s not impossible, because China is already showing amazing progress on may environmental issues. In fact she is outstripping the West which is burdened by having to please multinationals

    • http://www.sarahjaynefell.com Sarah

      I just got back from a few days in Hong Kong, and there, shark fin soup – and a variety of other shark fin dishes – are common on restaurant menus. Walking through the streets of “old” Hong Kong, around Queens Road West, there are many food shops with stands opening onto the pavement selling big bags of (many unrecognisable) things like dried snake, starfish, buck hooves, tortoise shell membranes, and dried shark fins – HK $780 (R825) for a bag of maybe 6 fins. There seems to be nothing controversial about this and these kinds of ingredients and dishes are very readily available.

    • Mark Crozier

      Its not news because they aren’t cute like dolphins! Denis Leary said it best. You see dolphin friendly signs on tuna cans. How come nobody gives a shit about the tuna? Fuck them – they taste good! Same with sharks, except they dont taste good. People are totally self-involved. If they don’t ‘respond’ to the animal in an emotional way, they wont get worked up its death. Plus, its cold blooded, ie, its just another fish. Sad as hell, but true. I saw a doccie on Animal Planet the other day, at the end they said, last year sharks killed 4 humans on the planet but humans killed 40 MILLION sharks. That just made my blood run cold… it is a staggering figure. If it keeps up, the greatest predator in the oceans will soon cease to exist. The consequences for the oceans in general are potentially catastrophic.

    • malcolm payne

      my previous post seemed to disappear. so ill try again.

      15 miles off shore in false bay off simonstown six (or more) long line shark catching boats are operating with dept of agriculture and fisheries “special permits” for shark fin and meat. i witnessed this on a pelagic birding trip. hundreds upon hundred were being pulled out — one a minute. all species regardless. about 20 of us on the trip (mostly foreign birders) were more than a little shocked to see this indiscriminate plunder. i took a number of photographs. so mike if you are interested to see what is happening right here at our back door i can send them to you.

    • jack sparrow

      @malcolmpayne, disgraceful how “our” government will sell anything they can to their oriental pals. One thing all these guys have missing and in common is absolute disregard for the environment whether it be shark, rhino or water.

    • J

      Bit off topic, but I would like to add, that while environmentalists are perceived as having outlandish ideas of protecting living things indefinately, I think the people who perceive this, seem to have equally outlandish ideas of humans living in space!
      Honestly, the more realistic option is to preserve our own natural environment instead of imagining some utopia humans can escape to that has not even been found yet, and therefore does not even exist, very imaginative though.
      Now to these people who believe this idea and that humans are capable of solving the universes problems, you are living with the fairies more so than hippys.
      Lets go back to being human 101, humans have reason, thats our difference, therefore we are able to comprehend that sharks are not scary things with big teeth and need to be killed, or are beautiful living creatures that flow through the vast oceans like the little mermaid, and the poor things need to be left alone. With reasoning, that is observing and comrpehending, it is understood that sharks are animals, that play apart in an ecosystem, and changing their role in that ecosystem by affecting their numbers, will affect other organisms and animals, including humans beings. If humans cannot fully understand their own environment, how are they suppose to survive in another imaginary one?
      The vanity…the ignorance…is this real life? The conundrum of individual liberalism, freedom without responsibility,might work in an imaginery world in…