Sharks will soon be worth more alive than when they are caught, killed, and eaten for food. If you’ve ever seen the eye-popping prices for shark fin soup on a restaurant menu, you may be a little surprised by a new study from the University of British Columbia in Canada.
Lead author Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor and colleagues went through data from 70 shark sites in 45 countries to perform an economic analysis on whether catching sharks for food or preserving them for tourism brought in the most money.
At one time, it was no contest that the food value was much larger, but now the shark food fishing industry is declining while tourism is on the rise. Cisneros-Montemayor has said that marine ecotourism (MET) is an exploding industry, generating millions of dollars worldwide. He has previously published research into the economics of MET in the otherwise small Central American country of Belize.
One clear advantage enjoyed by shark watching is that many tourists can enjoy the same shark on different occasions. However, a shark caught and killed for its fins to make shark fin soup is gone forever.
According to the new research, shark ecotourism is currently earning $314 worldwide and growing, with a projected annual value of $700 million within 20 years.
By comparison, the market value of the shark fin catch is currently at around $630 million and dropping fast as global shark fisheries collapse.
Although shark tourism is a popular activity in South Africa, where our tourist photograph was taken, it’s even more valuable in the Caribbean and Australia. Cisnero-Montemayor talked to Radio Australia about the value of living sharks.
He estimated that about 38 million sharks are currently being killed for shark fin soup. That’s to support an industry that’s both declining in value and becoming widely unpopular because of the gruesome methods used to take the shark fins.
Shark tourism definitely has its challenges. However, economic planners may be wise to expand protection to sharks as it becomes clear that many sharks are more valuable alive than dead.
[shark cage viewing in South Africa photo by Mogens Trolle via Shutterstock]