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Shark fin soup: CITES fails to protect 5 species of sharks from overfishing and finning

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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NOAA agent counting confiscated shark finsThe Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) this week decided not to create any new international trade restrictions to protect five endangered shark species, all of which are highly prized for their use in the Chinese delicacy known as shark fin soup, or, as I call it, “extinction in a bowl.”

Shark fin soup is particularly unappetizing dish to conservationists, as shark “finning” remains one of the most controversial hunting or fishing activities in the world. Sharks are caught, their fins are chopped off, and the bodies (which are not prized) are dumped back into the ocean—often alive, where they suffer a horrible death.

The sharks that were denied protection include three endangered hammerhead sharks (scalloped, great and smooth), the oceanic whitetip and the spiny dogfish. The CITES proposal would have added the species to CITES’ Appendix II, which places very strict import and export restrictions on species which would be threatened with extinction if trade were not strongly controlled.

“Once again CITES has failed to listen to the scientists,” said Glenn Sant, global marine program coordinator for TRAFFIC International, the wildlife trade monitoring network, in a prepared statement. “The decision not to list all of these sharks today is a conservation catastrophe for these species. Populations of these sharks have declined by more than 90 percent in some areas, many of them caught illegally and destined to end up in the shark fin trade. They are targeted because of their high value.”

According to a recent report by the marine conservation organization Oceana, Hong Kong imports up to 10 million kilograms of shark fins, representing up to 73 million sharks, every year. The fins, imported by fishermen from 87 different countries, can fetch more than $1,300 each. Shark fin soup, in turn, sells for more than $100 per bowl.

“The international shark fin trade is a multibillion dollar business that is pushing many shark species to the brink of extinction,” said Oceana fisheries campaign manager Elizabeth Griffin in a prepared statement. “Hammerhead sharks are primarily caught for their fins. Hammerhead shark fins are among the most commonly traded into the Hong Kong market. These shark species are threatened by the international consumer demand for shark fin soup.”

The CITES member nations did agree to add one shark species, the porbeagle shark, to Appendix II. “Porbeagle sharks finally received the trade protections they so desperately needed,” said Oceana wildlife scientist Rebecca Greenberg. “Without trade restrictions, these shark species will be pushed towards extinction. The oceans, livelihoods and local economies depend on these species.”

An earlier proposal to create more transparency in the shark trade was also shot down last week when Japan and other member nations argued that it would hurt poorer economies.

Image: An NOAA agent counting confiscated shark fins, via Wikipedia





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  1. 1. sodbuster 10:35 am 03/25/2010

    The reality is that Asian cultures, steeped in superstitions and quackery will continue to demand shark fins, sea horses, whale meat, snake blood,bear paws, tiger penises and other rare and endangered land and sea animal species. That being said Western cultures have some serious destructive issues too.
    The Oriental solution is to boycott Japanese, Chinese and other Asian goods and services. The more money we send to these countries the greater their demand is for these exotic dishes. Money talks besides how about saving our future generations from the humiliation of economic slavery to other governments and cultures?

    Link to this
  2. 2. sodbuster 10:41 am 03/25/2010

    The demand for shark fins, whale meat, sea horses, snake blood, bear paws and tiger penises is horrific! Americans and other Western cultures need to realize that the more money we send to these Asian countries the greater the demand for exotic mythological dishes and cure-all’s. Think about buying an American car and other products made by and for Americans. Think about the future and our children.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Extremophile 3:27 pm 03/25/2010

    I like the term "Economic Slavery".

    BTW, I am driving a German car. This is a free country too.

    Link to this
  4. 4. codegazer 6:12 am 03/27/2010

    "One thing we know is that people can make better decisions with better information." –Sergey Brin (of Google)

    If enough ordinary Chinese and Japanese people had the benefit of understanding the issues then many would choose change rather than clinging stubbornly to old traditions.

    I hope that "The End of The Line" documentary will be translated to Chinese and Japanese and distributed throughout Asia.

    ( http://endoftheline.com/ )

    Underlying the overfishing problem is the issue of growth of the human population and it’s demands for resources that cannot be sustained.

    If we don’t do something about human population growth we will all have to cope with the consequences.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Jupp 5:38 am 04/12/2010

    A journey into Extinction
    At the 15th Conference of the Parties of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), in beautiful Doha/Qatar, the oceans were dealt a terrible blow by Japan.
    It was Japan, together with China, Singapore and quite a few of the small countries, who received financial aid from Japan and participated in what I would call “The Oceans’ Pearl Harbor”. To watch them win this battle during which we all worked so hard to save and protect endangered marine species from extinction, was devastating.
    The big losers of this despicable and ruthless behavior are the oceans, the sharks, the red corrals and the Atlantic blue fin tuna. Since the ocean is our life support system, that makes all humans who live on this planet, big losers as well. Without a healthy ocean we will not be able to survive. That’s why I can’t help asking myself, “Who gives those people the right to loot our oceans?” Sadly, the answer is: “The members of CITES”. They handed them the mandate to do so.
    The fact that Japan was represented by 50 people, giving a lavish sushi party at their embassy the night before the vote on the tuna, twisting arms and applying pressure on the poor countries to get their vote, is clever but a disgusting display of “ownership” over our oceans. Am I wrong when I say “our oceans”? Until now I was under the impression that the world’s oceans belong to all of humanity and not to a “chosen few”, who claim it their birthright to rob them of whatever those people like. The sushi party clearly tells me how the votes against sharks, tuna and red corals came about. You don’t need to be a marine scientist to figure that out.
    I don’t believe that anybody would doubt that this kind of behavior had one common denominator: Money. I found it quite embarrassing to watch the representative from Island, walking around after the final vote on the Porbeagle shark was lost; putting her arms around every Japanese she could get her hands on and hugging the representatives from Singapore to show her pleasure over the damage they did to our oceans.
    So what did we finally achieve as far as the oceans are concerned? It was a death sentence to the blue fin tuna and to certain shark species, which made those people, whose only concern is money, so very happy. There was little talk about the protection of marine life. Nobody paid attention to the scientists, who warned about the consequences to the ocean if those species would be exterminated.
    The fact that the population of the blue fin tuna has already been reduced by 80%, that the red coral is almost extinct in the Mediterranean, and that the hammerhead and some other sharks have been depleted by 90% in some areas, did not matter to those who want to continue the multibillion dollar business of killing them all.
    Is that what CITES is all about? Has it become a convention in favor of trade with endangered species? There was a lot of talk about poor people who would suffer if we stop the killing; but I don’t know too many poor people who do damage to the oceans. The damage is done by huge long-line fishing vessels, owned by rich people. I also don’t think that too many poor people will indulge in blue fin tuna sushi or in shark fin soup. That is exactly what the Japanese are doing and that’s why the Sunday Times rightfully calls them: “A Country out of Step”.
    Josef Baron von Kerckerinck zur Borg Shark Research Institute & Sharkprotect.com

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  6. 6. bull08red 8:02 pm 05/5/2010

    A FRIEND TALK TO ME ABOUT THIS MAGAZINE, RELAY IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR MY SON’S EDUCATION. IN THE FUTURE I SEND THE PAYMENT FOR SUBSCRIPTION.

    Link to this
  7. 7. nathanc78 12:26 pm 05/11/2010

    The reality is that shark fin soup is sold all over the world. Here, where I live in San Diego, CA, the soup is sold in a dozen or more restaurants. One major way of stopping the shark finning trade is to quell demand for shark fin soup. As a passionate scuba diver and underwater photographer, I’ve created a resource center on my website to educate people on shark finning and to offer resources in reversing this trend. Hopefully our generation can save these animals before it’s too late!

    http://www.sensoryescapeimages.com/what-is-shark-finning/

    Nathan Ciurzynski
    http://www.SensoryEscapeImages.com

    Link to this

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