What's good for sharks is good for the economy.
This is not to say that socialist-style methods are always a boon to sharks. Cuba reports that it lands 700 tons of sharks a year, which is only a little less than the entire commercial shark fishery in the southeastern United States. And Honduras—which is governed by conservative president Porfirio Lobo Sosa—just created the world's third shark sanctuary when he permanently banned shark fishing off his nation's 92,665-mile exclusive economic zone on its Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
And now environmentalists are trying to use capitalism to make the case for shark conservation. A recent Australian study found that, over the course of its lifetime, a reef shark off Palau brings in $1.9 million to the nation's economy, and shark tourism brings Palau $18 million annually. Matt Rand, who directs global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group, said people are beginning to rethink how they can profit from these terrifying creatures.
"Generally a lot of the economics of sharks has been either in a bowl of shark's fin soup or in movie theater, scaring people," Rand says. "I hope we're changing that, and people are beginning see their value in the marine ecosystem, and their value in terms of tourism."
Shark economics may defy neat ideological categories, but there's one simple and surprising rule that applies: They're worth more alive than dead.
Correction, June 30, 2011: This article originally misstated the subtitle of the book Demon Fish. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Juliet Eilperin, national environmental reporter for the Washington Post, is the author of Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks.