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The Business of Sharks

MIAMI (CBS4) Call it man's inhumanity to sharks, or a man's effort to make a living. Either way, the brutality of finning sharks is hard to watch.

In videos obtained by Greenpeace, violent struggles with the oceans top predator are recorded. In one particular video, the fight is lost by the shark as fishermen pull it up into the boat... repeatedly stab it until the animal stops squirming... and then hack off its fin. Sometimes the sharks are thrown into piles, finless but still alive. they slowly die.

Others are thrown overboard. Unable to swim, they are destined for certain death. Why the savage kills? It's all for one thing... a bowl of soup... shark fin soup.

"I grew up eating shark fin soup. But I had no idea how it was obtained or what it really was," said one Chinese-American man.

What began in China more than 600-years ago as a treat for the small number of Asia's wealthy and elite... is now a multi-billion dollar business worldwide.

Ray Mou represents the government of Taiwan in Miami.

"Why is shark fin soup so popular in Asian culture?" asked CBS4's Jeff Berardelli.

"In ancient culture, the shark fin symbolized the status of the person in society," replied Mou.

A bowl of shark fin soup in China can cost between $80 to $300 dollars. That means even bigger bucks for fishermen. Shark fins sell for six to eight-hundred dollars a pound. That translates into an estimated 70 to 100 million sharks slaughtered each year... for soup.

"It's pretty tasteless to me," said Mou.

It's no surprise that in Hong Kong streets are lined with shark fin shops. But even here in South Florida, a visit to just one Oriental market by CBS4, found shark fins being sold.

"Right here. These are shark fins," Berardelli told the CBS4 photographer as he held up a packaged shark fin from the freezer section.

It's not illegal to sell shark fins in Florida... or shark fin soup... which we also found on the menu at a Chinese restaurant. A bowl of shark fin soup cost us $15.95.

But the consumer's consumption comes with a different kind of price tag.

Experts say some shark populations have declined by 90%. On January, 1st of this year, Taiwan joined the U.S. by banning shark finning in their waters. It is the first Asian country to do so.

"We believe that the obligation of the human being to conserve the endangered species is one of the main concerns," Mou said.

Off Florida's coastline, the shark hunting is less about soup and more about sport, according to local fishing guide "Mark the Shark."

"Over the years we have caught tens of thousand of sharks and my clients keep the sharks for trophies or they keep them for eating," he explained to Berardelli.

Shark fishing is a great option for charter boat captains because not only are they a real thrill to catch, but you can find them close to shore.

They are even found in shallow waters, here in the Florida Keys, where Captain Chris Johnson's business is thriving now more than ever... the policy for all his customers: catch and release. They never kill a shark.

"You kill enough sharks, you could literally wipeout a spot, and for me why do that?" asked Johnson. "I'm going back to the exact place every time I go sharking and it's just absolutely incredible!"

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