Las Vegas is famous for many things: from the neon lights of the Strip, to the world famous entertainers- and the tourists who flock here to see them. When we think of sharks in Vegas it may be Card Sharks and Loan Sharks, and maybe even the Rat Pack in their shining silk shark-skin suits, but we don’t think of tens of thousands of dead sharks in the desert. With the growth of Asian wealth, tourism has increased in the US, especially Las Vegas, and with that growth the demand for luxury items like shark fin soup has increased significantly.
Sharks are impacted from overfishing, largely driven by the demand for shark fin in the past two decades. This demand is overfishing populations of large sharks globally, and driving many species towards extinction. Scientists estimate that one third of the large open ocean species of sharks are threatened with extinction. Highly coveted for their fins, some large charismatic species like hammerhead sharks are now endangered and have had their local populations reduced by 90% or more. The high return paid for shark fins motivates fishermen to catch sharks for their fins or worse, through shark finning- the cruel and wasteful act of slicing off the fins and discarding the shark overboard. This demand is destroying an important animal and damaging ocean ecosystems.
Sharks are vanishing from the ocean and they are ending up in the soup. Direct flights from China and casinos and businesses catering to Chinese and Chinese American tourists are increasing visitors from that sector. Included in this attraction are tempting dishes like shark fin soup. Over 20 restaurants and casinos have been identified in Las Vegas alone selling shark fin, making this city the highest concentration of shark fin consumption in the US. Restaurants like Empress have opened a location at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino-a casino favored by Chinese visitors and gamblers- serving shark fin soup and other exotic Chinese dishes to their clientele.
To counter this trend, groups like California based Shark Stewards, the Humane Society US and Oceana and others have been fighting to combat the shark fin trade by passing legislation to ban the sale and trade of shark fins. At this time 11 US states have shark fin trade bans and there is now a congressional bill to eliminate the shark fin trade nationally. In the interim, Shark Stewards is focusing on Las Vegas with divers and the shark product free company LUSH Cosmetics at the DEMA dive show held at the Convention Center each year.
Why should the desert dwellers care about sharks? Sharks maintain the health and balance to ocean ecosystems, keeping their prey populations healthy and reducing waste and decomposing animals in the sea. Healthy seafood supplies rely on these top predators to keep out the diseased and the genetically weak. We rely on almost 70% of our oxygen from oceanic plankton. Humans across the planet rely on healthy oceans. Saving sharks will benefit the future of all humanity across the globe. We can make informed choices and say no to shark fin soup.
Join us at DEMA or at a press event in your shark or mermaid suit on Friday November 18.