News Release

Shark fin trade greater than previously thought, study finds

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Wildlife Conservation Society

A recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) revealed that the number of shark fins moving through Asian markets could be more than twice the estimate used by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which helps monitor and manage the world’s fish populations. The lack of accurate trade data heightens conservation concerns for several species of shark, most of which are long-lived and reproduce infrequently.

“Since trade data may be the most viable option for monitoring global harvest levels, accurate reporting in the markets is critical for marine conservation, for sharks and all other commercially valuable species,” said Shelley Clarke, lead author of the recently published Trade in Dried Asian Seafood. “Improved monitoring at the local level in key seafood trading centers like Hong Kong is the key to correcting inaccurate information used to manage (or regulate) fishing levels.”

Focusing her research efforts in the hubs of the Asian seafood market, Clarke selected marine species that could be quantified with trade records, a list that includes sharks, abalone, sea cucumbers and others. The study found major discrepancies between the reported numbers of shark fins (a major delicacy in Asian cuisine) in Hong Kong and its key trading partners, particularly mainland China, which does not record products imported from Hong Kong for processing. Clarke estimates that other jurisdictions may be under-reporting trade quantities between 24-49 percent compared to Hong Kong’s quantities.

Clarke also compared her adjusted local trade estimates with existing regional and global databases, both of which are used to monitor worldwide trade and manage populations. Regional organizations such as the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) were found to be more accurate than FAO data, but limited to only a few countries. SEAFDEC also lags behind other data sets by a few years. Other discoveries include the fact that European participation—especially Spain—in the shark fin trade has increased from negligible levels to 27 percent of all imports to Hong Kong, the world’s largest shark fin trading center.

“Above all else, the study underlines the need for continuing monitoring and analysis in places such as Hong Kong to assess extraction rates for species of conservation concern, especially sharks,” added Clarke. “These data can then be used by organizations such as the FAO and regional fisheries management organizations for more accurate assessments of global fishing trends.”


Images and copies of the report available through Conservation Communications

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