Pacific Scoop

Conservationist calls for shark fin trade ban

Of 307 shark species, 50 are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

Of 307 shark species, 50 are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

Pacific Scoop
By Rachna Lal and Maggie Boyle in Suva

A shark conservationist has called for a regional ban on the shark fin trade. Mike Newman, owner of the Fiji-based Beqa Adventure Divers, also advocates banning shark-fin soup from restaurant menus.

He says these moves are necessary to protect sharks, an endangered species critical for the survival of coral reefs.

“Sharks used to be by-catch. But at US$500 per kilogram, they are regarded as a separate source of income and targeted specifically,” Newman told Wansolwara.

Annually, as many as 100 million sharks are slaughtered for their fins around the world. Depending on the species, shark fins on the Asia-Pacific market can sell for between USD$400 to USD$800 per kiloram.

Newman says Fiji is a major regional hub for shark fins off-loaded by international tuna fleets. Fiji and other Pacific countries should ban the trade in shark fins, he added.

Currently there is no legislation to prohibit the sale and use of sharks for commercial purposes, although this year Palau created the world’s first “Shark Sanctuary”.

Palau has banned all commercial shark fishing in about 600,000 square kilometers of its territorial waters, an area about the size of France.

Palau President Johnson Toribiong told a local newspaper: “These creatures are being slaughtered and are perhaps on the brink of extinction unless we take positive action to protect them.”

Palau’s move prompted small Pacific Islands to call for a global ban on shark finning; the much-criticised, cruel practice of removing fins at sea before dumping the sharks back into the water to an agonising death.

A recent International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report states, “finning bans have been adopted for most international waters but lenient enforcement standards hamper their effectiveness”.

Newman, who has been a key advocate for the establishment of a Shark Reef Marine Reserve in the Beqa Lagoon, said sharks are a keystone species, indicating healthy reefs. “When they die out, the reefs will die,” he said.

Newman is currently working with the Fiji Government and other tourism stakeholders to draft legislation and to identify critical Marine Protected Areas (MPA) to better protect sharks.

“An MPA generates income and jobs and it means better fishing on the fringes (of the MPAs). This is of considerable significance to traditional landowners,” Newman said.

Conservationists believe that banning shark-fin soup from restaurant menus will create more awareness and consciousness that sharks are endangered and need protection. Shark-fin soup is sold without restriction in most major Chinese restaurants in the region.

In Suva, three popular Chinese restaurants boldly display shark-fin soup on their menus. Prices range from $3.50 to $8 per bowl of soup.

Situated in Suva’s central business district, Lantern Palace sells shark-fin soup with chicken. Plain shark-fin soup is available on request.

A man from the Great Wall of China in Fiji’s second city, Lautoka, who identified himself as William, said shark-fin was currently out of season, with January to June being harvest and peak months for the trade. He said that he purchased dry processed shark-fins from a major fishing company based in Suva at US$150 for 500 grams.

In Fiji, Dr Juerg Brunnschweiler has written a research paper on the commercial viability of the conservation of sharks. In an email, he said Shark Reef Marine Reserves (SRMR) as an ecotourism project was a viable option.

“The SRMR is designed to protect a small reef patch and its fauna while preserving the livelihood of local communities.” He added that such projects could generate sustainable income for traditional owners and would provide an incentive not to kill sharks.

    * Of 307 shark species, 50 are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered
    * Of 64 species of open ocean sharks and rays, 32 per cent are threatened with extinction, primarily due to over fishing
    * Shark fishery is a relatively lucrative business
    Developing countries share a trade worth an estimated USD$515 million
    * Of this, USD$101.1 million came from shark fin exports
    * These figures are largely unrepresented of much of the black market trade. Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature; UN Food and Agriculture Org.

Rachna Lal and Maggie Boyle are both student journalists at the University of the South Pacific. This article was written for Wansolwara.


WANSOLWARA EDITORIAL: The unconscionable trade in shark fins

It is well known that sharks are a critical part of the ecosystem that sustains our reefs and reef fisheries. Also well known is the fact that these creatures are highly endangered.

With 100 million sharks slaughtered around the world each year, there are fears that sharks could disappear altogether.

Even with this knowledge in hand, the trade in sharks continues unabated. There is no law against it in Pacific Island countries, according to our page one story.

A conservationist has called on regional countries to ban shark fishing. Whether his words have any effect remains to be seen.

Sharks are caught mostly by fishing fleets targeting tuna. There are no figures available on how many sharks such fleets catch.

But given the number of fishing fleets in Pacific waters, the catch has to be significant. Once sharks were by-catch but now they are specially targeted because of the high prices they fetch.

In a practice called finning, the fins of the sharks are removed while they are still alive. The creatures are then thrown back into the water still thrashing and bleeding to an agonising death. It is cruel and inhumane but those in authority are not doing much to stop it.

It is time to act. The Pacific could lose these magnificent creatures. Not only are sharks significant to our reefs but also a cultural totem for Pacific Island countries that regard them as sacred.

A call to ban shark-fin soup from restaurant menus should be heeded as this would be a significant step in the fight to protect sharks.

The slaughter of sharks is being driven by the high prices their fins fetch, so making it illegal for restaurants to sell shark-fin soup would remove an incentive for killing sharks.

Such a ban would stigmatise and make it socially unacceptable for people to consume shark-fin soup.

It would also create greater public awareness about the fact that sharks are endangered and need to be protected.

Many people are unaware of the disgusting and cruel methods used to obtain shark fins. They would be put off their soup if they knew.

Scientists and researchers are working hard to protect sharks through schemes such as Marine Protected Areas but their attempts will be in vain without tough action from governments in the region.

It is time to outlaw the cruel, destructive and unconscionable trade in shark fins.




    […] by saying and doing the things that need to be done.Today was another fine example of "How to do shark media." Kudos once again to Mike and his team in Fiji, the place where commercial shark diving and […]

  2. Henrik Furdal, 8. December 2009, 18:15

    Time is running out !

    A lot is being done about securing the future of our great planet regarding the out-let of ozone, combatting hunger and starvation, fighting dieseases and putting an end to poverty.

    In the meantime the great Apex Predators of the oceans, which has been around for more than 400 million years, are in dire straits and in great need of the same kind of focus.

    Each and every day (year round) more than 40.000 sharks are finned and left to die a horrible death by drowning as only the fins are used commercialy. This has been going on for decades and has eradicated more than 90% of the populations world-wide, which now treatens entire familie of sharks.

    The consequences if nothing drastic are done in due time, are catastrophic as entire eco-systems will be effected by the lack of these top predators as the foodchains will be distorted.

    Spread the word and support the local goverments and local fishing communities.


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