A recent report from the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) has revealed that the US is in the midst of a global fishery collapse, and that fisheries are declining at rates far worse than other developed countries.
The NFI’s report, released in the wake of a wave of protests against President Donald Trump’s proposed ban on the import of shark fins and other marine products, highlighted that the number of commercial sharks caught in the US was up to 4,500 percent since 1990.
While the US population is only now beginning to recover from the recession that followed the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the number is still increasing.
According to the NFI, the total shark fin imports into the US since 1990 amounted to $8.4 billion, a rise of 5,500% since 1990, and nearly double the annual amount of imports that the country received during the same time period.
While most of the imports were processed by the US, it also imports about 40% of shark fin sales worldwide, according to the report.
As a result, the report found that the average US shark fin export value is now over $500,000.
And the number continues to grow.
The decline of shark fisheries has been a major driver of the economic downturn.
“It’s hard to believe that shark fins were a major part of US fisheries during this period, given that many of these fish are harvested for human consumption in the Pacific Northwest, where the trade is largely driven by the commercial shark fin trade,” the report states.
“Moreover, the US has an export value of approximately $500 million for shark fin products, and the vast majority of the US shark fins exported to other countries come from the Pacific Coast of the United States.”
In the past decade, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that more than two million tonnes of shark meat have been exported from the US to Asia, while the United Kingdom has more than 400 million tonnes.
According the report, the trade in shark fins is now dominated by China, the largest shark fin importer in the world.
It is believed that China has been importing shark fins for at least the past five years, and is the only country in the entire world to have exported nearly half of its total fins since 1990 (see graphic below).
The report notes that while the US imports more than $1 billion worth of shark products per year, it consumes less than $500k worth of those products.
The report also points out that shark fin exports have been declining over time, from a high of nearly $100 million in 2010 to less than half of that amount in 2016.
While shark fins have long been an iconic item of American culture, it has long been viewed as a foreign import and often not valued for its meat quality.
The United States imported more than 2 million tonnes worth of whale meat in the 1990s and has imported less than 40,000 tonnes of tuna since 1990 according to a 2011 report from Greenpeace.
Since then, imports have dropped dramatically, according the report; from $1.5 billion in 2000 to less then $300,000 in 2020.
However, the NFSI’s report suggests that the importation of shark and other seafood products has risen since Trump’s inauguration, and this trend may continue.
The US Department of Agriculture has indicated that it would like to see the amount of shark imports drop significantly by 2025, and will look at how to increase that amount.
The government has also suggested that it could start reducing the amount that it imports by as much as 60% by 2025.
The Trump administration’s decision to impose a nationwide ban on shark fins will only further accelerate the decline of American shark fisheries, and in some cases the entire ocean.
“While many of the sharks imported into the United State are from countries where they are not valued, the global shark fin market is a very large one,” the NFFI report states, “and while some of the countries that import most of these shark fins are not among the countries where shark fin prices are most expensive, they are among the nations that have the largest populations of shark species in the Western Hemisphere.”
The US will be forced to find new ways to bring its population of wild sharks back up to date.
“The US is a great place to do this because it has a lot of resources and is a global leader,” John Smith, director of the Marine Mammal Program at the University of California, San Diego, told Business Insider.
“But the challenge will be to find a way to get sharks back to a sustainable level that is acceptable to the public.”
Read the full NFI report here.