Sharks play a vital role in our ecosystem as part of a complex system of checks and balances. As apex predators they are at the top of the food chain. Many sharks prey upon wounded or sick animals, keeping the populations of various species healthy and in balance, while others scavenge the ocean by feeding on dead animals or by filter feeding. Hunting sharks to extinction will have a catastrophic effect on the world's ecosystem. Millions of sharks are killed every year. Many sharks also fall victim to finning, the practice of cutting the shark's fins and then discarding the still-living shark into the sea to die.
With the exception of a few countries that have instituted national measures for their shark fisheries or protection for individual species, there are virtually no controls on shark fisheries around the world. There is an urgent need for management and monitoring to be instituted at the national, regional and international levels to prevent the extinction of species and populations.
Conservation of sharks can be considered on one of three levels, or a combination of all three. There is conservation for the sake of the environment and maintaining its balance; then there is conservation for the sake of humanity, to not allow a living creature to become extinct; and finally, there is conservation for economic reason. No matter what level you are on, conservation depends heavily on education. Shark populations are being decimated throughout the world. Some species are already biologically extinct in some oceans and many others are on the verge of becoming extinct.
We must act now! Sharks are exploited for their meat, fins, cartilage, leather, oil, teeth, gill rakers and jaws. They are directly targeted in some commercial and recreational fisheries and are caught incidentally as bycatch in many other fisheries. Fisheries are a major factor affecting shark populations. The continuing emphasis on shark fisheries appears to be the result of several factors, including the increase demand worldwide for fish protein, a related rise in shark exploitation to replace declining catches from many depleted fish stocks. There has also been a rising demand for the value of shark fins in international trade, primarily a result of the rise in the middle class population of Asia.