Sharks Sustain Seafood Supplies and Help Economies

shark diving, shrimp dish, shark tunnel at aquarium

shark diving, shrimp dish, shark tunnel at aquarium

Without sharks, many of our favorite crustacean-based seafood dishes would drop off menus. Sharks, perfectly adapted to thrive as apex predators, maintain the ocean’s biodiversity by controlling the populations of marine species that are lower than them on food chains. As has been shown in Tasmania, Australia, removing sharks from an area has devastating effects on the ecosystems we depend on for seafood. Tasmania’s shark fisheries quickly exhausted local shark populations. With the sharks virtually gone, the squids dwelling in Tasmanian waters no longer had any predators. Their populations exploded and the rampant squids devoured all of the lobsters in the area until Tasmania’s lobster fishery collapsed. Other fisheries have suffered similar crashes from depleted shark populations, including those for scallops, clams and crabs. We can only guess at the impact declining shark numbers have on parts of the ecosystem that do not affect us directly.
Many economies worldwide rely on sharks, especially those of island and coastal communities. Though sharks are valuable to fisheries because most parts of their bodies can be made into many commercial products, people are beginning to realize that sharks are actually worth much more alive than dead. A dead shark might earn a fisherman up to a hundred dollars, while a live shark can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in tourist revenue over its lifetime. People pay to see sharks at aquariums, where they are among the most popular attractions. Ocean lovers and adventure seekers spend millions of dollars every year on traveling, hotels, diving lessons and diving equipment to watch sharks in the wild. In 1993, a study on shark-based ecotourism at the Maldive Islands calculated that each reef shark in the area generated $35,000 annually. With the growing interest in shark diving, imagine how much they must be worth today.

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