Eminent shark scientists state that shark fin trade is unsustainable

March 21st, 2012 by Professsional marine scientists

shark fins on the floor of the auction hall in Vigo, Galicia, Spain in April 1990. These were from sharks that had been disposed of at sea because, we were told, they could not be kept fresh during the 25 day fishing trip. (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

An open letter from professional marine scientists:

As professional marine scientists who have personally witnessed and documented the dramatic declines of shark populations around the world, we would like to express our concern about the recent misinformation perpetuated in the media, both Asian and international, asserting that the shark fin trade is sustainable.

The reality is that this vast trade is largely unmanaged and unmonitored, and that the shark fin industry in Asia plays little to no role in fisheries management in the countries that are fishing sharks. The slow growth and reproductive rates of sharks makes them extremely susceptible to over-exploitation. Since only a small fraction of shark-fishing nations have any type of shark management plan in place, the assertion that the fin trade is sustainable is not based in fact.

Despite recent claims to the contrary by the Hong Kong-based Sustainable Marine Resources Committee of the Marine Products Association (MPA), there is a wealth of scientific evidence that populations of many shark species are in decline, with the shark fin trade being an important driver.

There is a solid scientific consensus that many sharks and indeed other cartilaginous fishes, such as skates and rays, are in severe trouble, and there is emerging evidence that this could be causing wider disruptions in ocean ecosystems.

We the undersigned believe, in the interests of both the global marine environment and the public that depends on healthy ocean ecosystems, that decision makers should be apprised of the full facts of the shark fin issue, most specifically that:

  • The shark fin trade, as it currently stands, is NOT sustainable. Peer-reviewed scientific research has shown that the fins of tens of millions of sharks passed through the shark fin trade in 2000. Since then there has been no accurate estimation of the trade volume and corresponding number of sharks killed, making it impossible for the industry to state that the trade is sustainable. Declines in shark populations have been reported from many locations worldwide, and many areas like the Caribbean, for example, are heavily impacted. Individual populations, such as oceanic whitetip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and hammerheads in the Mediterranean, have experienced severe declines. These statistics are not mere speculation but are backed up by published analyses in academic journals.
  • Shark fins are by far the most valuable part of the shark, which encourages many fisheries to target them or retain them even when they are caught incidentally, rather than releasing them alive. The shark fin trade should therefore be viewed as a major driver of global shark fishing activities, which are often unmanaged and conducted in an unsustainable manner.
  • The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) does NOT adequately protect endangered shark species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 82 species of sharks on its Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Yet, CITES regulates trade of just three of these threatened shark species. Despite meeting the scientific criteria for listing, numerous shark species have been denied CITES protection because politics prevented them from receiving the two-thirds of the votes necessary for a CITES listing. A larger number of species are considered threatened and are therefore prohibited in particular countries or by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. CITES tends to lag behind domestic and regional management bodies because of the 2/3 majority requirement and should not therefore be used as the benchmark for whether a species is under threat.

In short, the overwhelming body of scientific data supports the urgent need to focus on adequate conservation and management strategies rather than maintaining unsustainable levels of fishing.

Given that sharks play an important role in maintaining the delicate balance of the world’s marine ecosystems, and that many species of sharks are now threatened or near threatened with extinction, there is a rare opportunity to make a significant impact on an issue of global importance by helping to regulate the burgeoning international trade in shark fins.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Demian D.F. Chapman
Assistant Professor,
School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Stony Brook University,
Stony Brook, USA

Dr. Samuel H. Gruber
Director, Bimini Biological Field Station, South Bimini, Bahamas
Founder IUCN Shark Specialist Group,
Founder American Elasmobranch Society, and
Professor Emeritus University of Miami

Dr. Michael Heithaus
Director, School of Environment, Arts and Society
Florida International University,
Miami, Florida, USA

Dr. Robert Hueter
Director, Center for Shark Research
Associate Vice President for Research,
Directorate of Marine Biology and Conservation
Mote Marine Laboratory,
Sarasota, Florida, USA

Dr. Steven Kessel
Post-Doctoral Fellow,
Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research
University of Windsor,
Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Boris Worm
Associate Professor,
Biology Department
Dalhousie University,
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

John A. Musick
Acuff Professor Emeritus in Marine Science
Virgina Institute of Marine Science
Vice Chair-Science
IUCN Shark Specialist Group

John Racanelli
National Aquarium
501 E. Pratt St.
Baltimore, MD 21202

Bruce Goorney & Alexandria Leonard
White Shark Conservation Trust

Kenneth J. Goldman
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Division of Commercial Fisheries
Groundfish/shellfish Research Biologist
IUCN-Eastern North Pacific Regional Co-Chair
Immediate Past-President; American Elasmobranch Society

lamnid sharks lie on the floor of the auction hall in Vigo, Galicia, Spain in April 1990 (click image to exlarge - ©RLLord)

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