Can an imitation fin made of algae save the sharks?

[USA] Each year, people leave 70 million sharks to die slowly after cutting off their fins for use in traditional food and medicine and then releasing them into the ocean again. We can all be thankful for the San Francisco seafood company that’s trying to change that.

New Wave Foods is developing an artificial shark fin made of algae and proteins to substitute the one belonging to the apex predator, Discovery reports.

“Through technology, we are creating seafood that doesn’t have to be harvested from this highly vulnerable ecosystem and that is created entirely in our food laboratories,” company spokesperson Florian Radke tells Discovery. “We get inspired by Mother Nature and recreate what people have been eating for centuries, in a better and more sustainable way.”

New Wave founders are mainly trying to imitate the texture of collagen, a protein that makes up much of a shark’s fin, according to KQED. Taste is less of an issue, as fins are fairly tasteless.

Some worry the introduction of the artificial fin, called Smart Fin, this summer may backfire by reigniting interest in actual shark fins. But it’s a risk the folks at New Wave—and the 30 chefs who’ve already signed up to have Smart Fin in their restaurants—are willing to take.

While China’s demand for shark fin has declined in recent years—as well as the consumption of the infamous shark fin soup—we still need to mitigate a lot of damage. Care2 reports that 10 of 14 sharks commonly farmed for their fins are in high risk of extinction, and the four other species are on that road too. Governments around the globe have banned trading, selling and having the fins, but China’s isn’t one of them.

At least Hong Kong has stopped using them in official government banquets.

Sharks face threats beyond finning as well, as Care2 reported earlier this fall. Demand for shark meat increased more than 40 percent between 2000 and 2010, a U.N. study reports, contributing a large chunk to the $1 billion shark-product industry. While China’s thought of as a hub for fins, experts cited Brazil and Korea as culprits in the increased demand for meat from skate, ray and shark meat.

“These species are in global crisis,” says Luke Warwick, of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ global shark conservation campaign, Care2 reports. “Because sharks grow slowly, mature late and bear few young, they can’t recover from depleted populations quickly enough, especially if they continue to be killed at a rate of about 100 million, year after year.”

Perhaps that’s why more than a quarter of all sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.

“Most shark species exhibit high habitat specificity and small ranges and are also threatened by overfishing and the degradation of coastal ecosystems through pollution,” writes a rep from the International Union for Conservation of Nature in National Geographic. “Unfortunately, people also kill sharks out of perceived threat of risk to people, misguided attempts to protect aquaculture or fisheries, or plainly, just for fun…

“It’s clear that sharks face many of the same threats that plague other flagship  species of wildlife crime—poaching, over-exploitation, habitat loss, persecution, and black market values that are compounded by relaxed or non-existent laws and consequences in many places around the world. The survival of many shark species will be a direct result of the ability of individuals, diverse communities, and governments to recognize and halt the loss of sharks and their relatives, a tall order for a large, open, and mostly unregulated ocean.”


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