Debate has been raging lately on the health of the world’s oceans. From local bloggers to the Boston Globe to my CSF, it seems everyone is talking about how to reduce the impact humans have on the sea.
For my part, I eat local shellfish, turn down farmed salmon and never, ever order the Chilean sea bass. I’m neurotic about cutting up six-pack rings into long strings that won’t trap fish or birds and I try and reuse plastic bags. I enrolled in a CSF in order to eat locally, sustainable caught fish (though there is debate about that now as well). So, why is there 12 lbs of thresher shark in my freezer at the moment?
Oomph. Let me try and explain.
I wouldn’t buy shark meat at a store. I have never ordered shark fin soup or anything like that. I don’t endorse commercial shark fishing. However, some friends of mine fished the Boston Big Game Monster Shark Fishing Tournament on Martha’s Vineyard earlier this month. They do so every year, have for 20 years. Some years they catch something they can keep, most years they don’t. I wrote about the tournament last year for The Boston Globe and I talked to a lot of the fishermen. I watched sharks get reeled in and released the same way you would a bass. I watched fishermen tag some sharks and collect tags from others, which helps scientists track their migration. I spoke with representatives from PETA and others who oppose the tournament (though many oppose it less for the damage it does to sharks and more so for the hordes of rowdy revelers it brings to the normally bucolic island).
In short, I saw firsthand what happens. Is the event necessary? Probably not. But it’s also not the savage, sinister ritual that its opponents make it out to be. On the contrary, hunters and fishermen are some of the most conservation minded folks out there. They are strict about observing size and quantity limits, and most understand perfectly well why it’s important to do so. Many want, if nothing else, to ensure there’s something for their sons to hunt and fish.
While I understand the environmental threats that sharks face, I think that the effects of commercial fishing and the international shark fishing industry are far more detrimental to global shark populations than the hundred or so boats that showed up in Oak Bluffs this year. According to the National Aquarium, an estimated 250,000 sharks are killed through targeted fisheries and as by-catch each day. Fishermen in this year’s tournament took about a dozen sharks, while releasing hundreds of others. The bottom trawlers that catch the cod for my CSF each week may do more damage to the ocean than the fishermen who participate in this two-day event.
And the fact is, I know that no amount of ranting and raving or educating is apt to change the minds of the people who fish in the tournament or those who organize it. With fuel prices rising, a global recession and an increasing focus on living green, the tournament is a dwindling event whose days are probably numbered anyway.
I asked the captain of the boat my shark came from where he draws the line. Would he fish for sharks outside of the tournament? No. Were any other sharks killed on his boat over the weekend? No; more than a dozen blue sharks and one hammerhead were caught and released. Would he shoot an elephant? A polar bear? “Probably not,” he said. “Neither tastes very good.”
For me, that’s a big part of the reason right there. Many hunters and fishers are avid about the fact that you shouldn’t take anything you aren’t going to eat. Seeing something through from life to the table is a big part of why they do it, and it’s a good reminder of our place in the food chain. In this day and age it’s very easy to avoid the fact that our meat comes from living, breathing organisms. Look at a package in the grocery store and you don’t see a chicken or a cow. You see a package. But I guarantee that when I serve my shark tomorrow night, my friends will know that it came from a creature who swam the ocean just a few days ago. That shark will be toasted, remembered and appreciated.