As a result of over-fishing and the massive depletion of shark numbers, there has been an increase in algae blooms which, in turn, have stifled coral polyps reproduction. The effect of this cascade is to halt the reproduction of the reef and blanching the existing coral. This has resulted in a 'desertification' of the reef bio-diversity.
The Sea of Cortez
Human over- predation of the hammerhead shark has resulted in an exponential explosion in the number of Humboldt squid. Whilst local fishermen have capitalised on this temporary 'bonanza', the squid prey sea-bed dwelling species are being cleaned out at an unsustainable rate. In February 2008, Govenor Arnold Scnwartzeniger announced the demise of the scallop industry on the California coastline
The Atlantic (Eastern Seaboard of the USA)
Similar human over-predation of a variety of shark species has had a cascade effect to the point of destroying a 100-year old scallop industry. Oyster and clam stocks are equally affected to the point of permanent non-recovery.
Many coral reef-dependent communities are sorely tempted to take advantage of the ever-burgeoning market for sharks fin soup. It seems most likely that the practice of 'finning' (cutting off sharks fins and disposing of the remains) is still rife. In gaining some understanding of their situation it is important to understand that several months money-equivalent can be gained from one fin !! The temptation to reject the more traditionally-derived sustainability and conservation practices must be overwhelming in some Pacific Island communities.
The Red Sea
The reef bio-diversity in the Northern section of the Red Sea is gradually showing progressive signs of 'desertification' as a result of shark depletion and the 'cascade' effect. There is an increase in shark fishing which is believed to be directed towards the supply of fins for the Far East sharks fin soup market.
Sharks fin Soup
The demand for sharks fin soup is ever-burgeoning. It must represent a huge factor in the finning practice. Increasingly, international fishing fleets no longer regard the accidental catch of sharks as a 'bi-product' to their primary catch target, but keep the shark for it's ever-increasing commercial value. Indeed, there are now a number of shark-targetted commercial fishing sorties. The practice of 'long-lining' (trailing up to 80 km of baited fishing hooks with a fairly extended 'soak time') is also contributing substantially to the predation of the shark. The practice of 'finning', whilst banned in some sea areas, is still widely practiced and is by no means confined to the Pacific. Recent articles produced by UNEP-related bodies have highlighted an increasing commercial trade in shark meat.
We believe that these facts must present an overwhelming case for the establishment of internationally-spread 'Marine Conservation Areas' or Reserves where the natural bio-diversity 'cycle' is allowed to flourish and protected by stringent maritime law. In the absence of such Reserves, the outcome could well be increasing poverty to Pacific Island communities and a loss of sea food variety to the more developed western nations. Oysters, clams and scallops are just some of the species immediately under pressure in the oceans - - - it is quite possible to foresee some subspecies of fish beginning to target the lobster as part of their prey !! Whilst it is possible to argue for an increase in maritime farming, the source of their 'breeding stock' could well dry up !!
In a court of law, it is quite possible to envisage a defence lawyer arguing that these facts only constitute 'circumstantial evidence' and putting forward other reasons for the reduction in shark numbers, an increase in marine pollution and reduced general marine bio-diversity. However, we feel that the amount of circumstantial evidence is becoming overwhelming to the point that something must be done immediately to conserve the shark and thereby induce healthy coral reef systems. The feeling is that research into the 'cascade' effect on coral reef health should be given top priority at UN level.