Sharks shouldn’t be killed for their fins alone. But the worldwide campaign to ban shark finning should not imperil New England fishermen who catch dogfish, a shark relative that is one of the least wasteful fish products.
Compared with cod, scallops, lobster, or swordfish, the dogfish is hardly an iconic New England bounty. But it has uses around the world. The head makes for lobster and crab bait, the back meat becomes British fish and chips, the belly meat is smoked into a German delicacy, and the liver is featured in nutritional supplements. Anything left other than the fins becomes fertilizer. It is only after all these other uses that the valuable fins are sent off to become the delicacy of Asian shark fin soup.
Massachusetts accounts for nearly half of the East Coast’s dogfish catch, with major processors in Gloucester and New Bedford. But fishermen are worried that bans on the sale of fins, which have been enacted or proposed in many states and across the world, will prevent them from exporting the most profitable part of the fish.
It’s entirely reasonable for environmentalists to call attention to the practice of killing a shark just for its fins. But they should be careful to advocate measures that don’t strike at dogfish fishermen, who are practicing what many environmentalists preach. If there is such a thing as a sustainable shark fin, it is here.