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In hindsight, it is not only crude special effects that make Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster Jaws look so silly. It is the idea that audiences were scared witless by sharks, when the real threat of predation then and now is the other way around, posed by human beings to sharks. One way or the other, people are in the process of eating sharks to extinction.

Proof of just how unequal sharks, despite their terrifying reputation, are to industrialized fishing methods was underscored this week, when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature added six more species of shark to the Red List of species under threat of extinction.

That decision coincided with a new global study that shows "by-catch" from industrial fishing operations targeting tuna and swordfish (species of "big fish" that have also suffered precipitous declines of more than 90 per cent according to a 2004 study in the journal Nature) have helped to drive 16 of 21 species of shark to the brink.

Asian taste for shark-fin soup has made the situation yet more perilous for sharks, as the industry now specially targets them. During the finning process, sharks are hauled up on deck, their fins sliced off, and the animals - sometimes still alive - are then often thrown back into the sea.

Demand for the "delicacy" is high in Hong Kong and mainland China, but the responsibility for this assault on the world's oceans is truly globalized, also involving EU-subsidized Spanish long-liner fleets and high-end Chinese restaurants in Canada and elsewhere.

The new study, presented at a major UN conference on biodiversity in Bonn, calls for the establishment and enforcement of science-based catch limits for sharks and rays, and a ban on the practice of shark finning. The situation is clearly critical.

Dr. Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist at Oceana, the world's leading ocean environmental advocacy group, argued on Friday that "saving sharks requires immediate and collective action." Canada, through government policy, and Canadians, by amending their dining habits, have a role to play in defence of this sharp-toothed cause.

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