Tell me the truth: are you afraid of sharks, like, deathly afraid of those big jaws?

Well, the chances of you seeing sharks alive in open water are actually getting rarer nowadays.  In fact, it’s easier and more common to find sharks here on land. 

While this may sound like good news at first, a deeper knowledge of the plight of our sharks and the cruel exploitation of our marine resources will certainly turn that false relief around.

Sharks are hunted for their fins, and their oils are used as vitamin supplements, sometimes even as a beauty ingredient in cosmetics.

Sharks are also in our food. Aside from the infamous Chinese delicacy shark fin soup, there’s shark fin siomai and tempura. Recently, I found out that shark meat is also used for - and hold your breath now - as an ingredient in everyone’s favourite fish balls!

Fish balls are a cheap and convenient snack. If times are rough, some even eat them for lunch or dinner.

There’s nothing unsound in eating fish balls or siomai, per se. It’s convenient, cheap, and well, good to eat. There’s even this Pinoy joke which goes, “Everything has increased in terms of price, but not the fish balls.”

How can this happen, you ask? Well, the problem begins at sea, where most fishermen have struggled to make ends meet. Because our oceans are already in critical condition, with fisheries being depleted or overfished, many fishermen resort to drastic measures just to catch any fish, including juvenile fish. Some confess that they employ a large hook with a bait and line to catch anything that bites--including sharks, which are extremely prized for their fins. The fishermen cut off the fins from the shark’s body and sell the shark meat at P50 a kilo to wholesale traders. 

Why should we save sharks? They are known as apex predators providing balance in the oceanic ecosystem and marine life. Sharks play an important role in keeping fish populations robust by preying on the weakest specimens.  Any disruption of this balance would have an adverse effect to the whole food chain (remember, we depend on the sea for food and sustenance). 

In the Philippines, no law exists to protect sharks, though an ordinance in Cebu bans its capture, killing and sale.   Advocates and conservationists have echoed that the ordinance needs to be updated, policies must be strengthened, and a national legal framework should be in place and strongly implemented. For me personally, there’s a need for consumer awareness so that people will be more enlightened about how seafood is sourced, in order to protect, save and conserve shark species. 

I’m positive that with more public awareness, we’ll eventually end this horrific shark trade that is pushing them to extinction.  In fact, our airline carriers like Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have disallowed the air transport of shark fin cargoes as part of global conservation efforts by the airline industry. Even hotels and restaurants, particularly in Cebu, have thrown their support and have banned shark-based dishes on their menus.

Since joining Greenpeace, I’ve always been reminded how my food choices and lifestyle could affect the already fragile environment. Each of us can take a step forward in keeping our oceans clean, healthy, thriving, and full of sharks! 

Diah Abida is part of the Communications team at Greenpeace Southeast Asia based in the Philippines.