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Shark Info 2 / 01   (06-15-2001)

Author

  Intro:

The decline of traditional shark fishing

Shark Info

  Main article:

The decline of traditional shark fishing

Shark Info

  Article 1:

Fishing, fins and the lack of sufficient international controls

Shark Info

  Article 2:

A telephone poll by the nature conservation organizations WildAid and Earthcare in Hong Kong and Taiwan

Shark Info

  Article 3:

Series of shark accidents in Florida: Facts and background

Dr. E. K. Ritter

  Fact Sheet:

Blacktip Shark

Dr. E. K. Ritter


Fishing, fins and the lack of sufficient international controls

Report by Shark Info

Haiflossen Suppe

Shark fin soup: Status symbol which triggered the boom in fin trading.

© D. Perrine / Shark Foundation

Shark meat is eaten practically around the world. In several third world countries it is even considered the primary source of protein. The sustainable exploitation of shark meat can be realistically justified when catch limitations and closed seasons are observed. However, the increasing excessive and uncontrolled exploitation of shark populations around the globe (e.g. cutting off sharks' fins - finning - for shark fish soup) is unacceptable.

The origin of shark fin soup goes back more than 2000 years presumably to southern China. Apart from any real nutritional value, shark fin soup has turned into a social event and status symbol. Soup fins consist of tasteless cartilage sticks and are very expensive. The status of a family in Asian regions thus depends on how good or how much variety their cooks can put into preparing shark fin menus. Shark fin soup is a preferred dish served at weddings, birthday parties, business meetings or celebrations, or also during the Chinese New Year, the main annual Chinese celebration. The prosperity of those who invite people to one of these occasions is measured by the size (width and thickness) of the cartilage sticks since these determine the price of the fins.

It is thus not surprising that in Asia any attempts by single restaurants to replace fins with some other piece of cartilage failed. Guests insisted on seeing entire fins swimming in their soup. Only then could their authencity be guaranteed.

The market for shark fins is constantly rising. Since practically no laws or regulations exist with regard to finning, only fragmentary statistics as to the amounts imported and exported are available. Yet the few numbers known give cause for alarm.

In 1980 official statistics registered the trading of approximately 3,000 tons of shark fins, but the real amount is certainly much higher.

Statistics from Taiwan, Singapore and the worldwide center of fin trading, Hong Kong, indicate an explosive increase in the trading of shark fins. Official reports from the Hong Kong customs authorities report that 6,954 tons of shark fins were cleared for re-export in 1999, most of them destined for Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and China. China alone imported 3,000 tons of fins from Hong Kong.

Today, China must be considered the largest market for shark fins. The slackening of the laws and the acceptance of western affluence resulted in the birth of a middle class consisting of approximately 250 million people who can all afford shark fin soup. Up until 1987 China was only an irrelevant participant in the marketing and consumption of shark fins since the government was opposed to the concept of prosperity and shark fin soup was considered an inappropriate status symbol. The economic upswing in Peking and Shanghai turned into a basis for prosperity and hence into a market for shark fins so that China began to fish sharks. Catch quantities are unknown, but the number of high-powered ships (500 BRT) appropriate for shark fishing increased from one ship in the year 1975 to 26 ships in 1992. In 1996 Shanghai itself already owned 64 ships. Chinese fishing boats are seen mainly in the northern Pacific, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Taiwan ranks five in international shark fin trading, maintaining the largest fishing fleet which fishes primarily in international waters, away from their own territorial waters. Local Taiwanese fishermen land approximately 430 tons of fish per year, as compared to official reports of 34,000 tons of fish caught by the international Taiwanese fleet. Still, experience has shown that this number is far below the actually landed fish. Astonishingly, local fisheries process the entire shark, while Taiwanese high-sea fisheries are only interested in the fins. In 1998 Taiwan had 2,325 longliners, 1,530 gill net fishing boats, 2,161 otter trawlers, 56 bull trawlers and an unknown number of dragnet fishing boats. Not included in these numbers are FOC ships (FOC = flag of convenience, see box below), in other words, ships registered under foreign flags.
High import taxes are another reason why Taiwan has progressively become a hub for shark fin products. According to law only Taiwanese ships can unload their freight duty free in Taiwan, while other ships pay a 42% import duty. On the high seas Taiwanese ships thus take aboard the fins from other countries who wish to export to Taiwan. One of the most important such suppliers is Spain, while the Canary Islands are also doing their share to establish themselves as a center for fin trading.

Singapore is another fin trading center in addition to Taiwan and Hong Kong, but since it publishes no data, figures must be estimated based on foreign nation exports to Singapore. Since its own fishing fleet is small, it is more a port of call used to transship cargo.

Box

Advantages of the "Flag of Convenience"

Taiwanese ships which operate under an FOC are, for example, registered in Panama. A Taiwanese ship travelling under a Panamian flag can thus fish in the territorial waters of those states who normally do not grant Taiwanese ships a fishing license.

In 1996 20% of all international ships operated under FOC cover and harvested 46% of the total fishing volume.

Finning is constantly on the rise and so are the prices because sharks are becoming more and more rare. Current prices have already risen to USD 100 per kilogram. If worldwide shark populations are to be saved, then the finning market must be fought at all costs.

Some individual governments have made attempts at banning or at least limiting finning practices, but in the end this will not suffice to save the populations of the world's oceans. Canada put a ban on finning in 1994 which in its initial phases could not be successfully enforced. And it was not until the introduction of a management plan in 1997 that this ban could in some way be guaranteed. Brazil followed Canada's example and in 1998 passed a finning ban for all ships fishing within Brazil's 200-mile zone. And in December 2000 the U.S. also officially passed a finning ban for all U.S. territorial waters. Further restrictions have been passed in South Africa, England, Mauretania, Mexico, Malta, Namibia, Oman, the Philippines and Israel.

A start has thus been made and hope remains that additional countries will follow their lead.

May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info



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