Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An Open Letter to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

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 overexploitation.

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 Organisations.

CITES tends to lag behind domestic and regional management bodies because of the two-thirds 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.

Undersigned by the following:

Dr Gregor Cailllet; Director Emeritus, Pacific Shark Research Centre; Professor Emeritus, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, US

Dr Jeffrey C Carrier, PhD; Professor Emeritus of Biology - Albion College; American Elasmobranch Society - Past-President; Adjunct Research Scientist - Mote Marine Laboratory, US

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

Dr William Cheung; Assistant Professor, Fisheries Centre, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Dr Philippe Cury; IRD Senior Scientist; Director Centre de Recherche Halieutique Mediterraneenne et Tropicale Sete, France

Dr Toby S Daly-Engel; Assistant Professor of Marine Biology; University of West Florida, US

Dr Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, PhD; President, Tethys Research Institute, Milano, Italy

Dr Michael L Domeier; President Marine Conservation Science Institute, US

Dr E Esat Atikkan, PhD; Adj Prof, Biology, Adj Prof, Physical Education, Montgomery College, US

Dr Kevin Feldheim, PhD; A Watson Armour III Manager of the Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution; Field Museum of Natural History, USA

Dr Francesco Ferretti, PhD; Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, US

Dr Andrew B Gill; Senior Lecturer, Environmental Science and Technology Department, Cranfield University, UK

Dr Eileen D Grogan, PhD; Professor of Biology; Research Associate: Carnegie Museum The Academy of Natural Sciences, US

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

Dr George J Guillen, PhD; Executive Director and Associate Professor Environmental Science and Biology, Environmental Institute of Houston, University of Houston, US

Dr Richard L Haedrich; Professor emeritus, Memorial University, St John's, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada

Dr Neil Hammerschlag; Research Assistant Professor, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy; Director, R J Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, University of Miami, US

Dr Michael Heithaus; Director, School of Environment, Arts and Society, Florida International University, US

Dr Mauricio Hoyos Padilla; Pelagios-Kakunja A C La Paz, BCS, Mexico

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

Dr Charlie Huveneers; Lecturer and Research Scientist, Flinders University/SARDI - Aquatic Sciences Adelaide, Australia

Dr Salvador Jorgensen; Research scientist; Chief Scientist, White Shark Research Initiative, Monterey Bay Aquarium, US

Dr Stephen M Kajiura; Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, US

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

Vivian Lam; IUCN Shark Specialist Group, US

Dr Agnes Le Port; Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences The University of Auckland, New Zealand

Dr Richard Lund; Research Associate, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

Dr John W Mandelman; Research Scientist, John H Prescott Marine Laboratory, New England Aquarium, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Dr Mikki McComb-Kobza; Postdoctoral Researcher, Ocean Exploration and Deep-Sea Research, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, US

Dr John E McCosker; Chair of Aquatic Biology, California Academy of Sciences, US

Dr Henry F Mollet; Research Affiliate MLML, R&D Volunteer Husbandry Division, Monterey Bay Aquarium, US

Dr Elliott A Norse; President, Marine Conservation Institute, 2122 112th Avenue NE, US

Dr Jill A Olin; Post-Doctoral Fellow, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Dr Daniel Pauly, Professor of Fisheries, Fisheries Centre, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Prof Ellen K Pikitch, PhD; Executive Director, Institute for Ocean Conservation, Science School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, US

Dr Yvonne Sadovy; Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Dr Carl Safina; Blue Ocean Institute, US

Dr Bernard Seret; Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement (IRD), Museum national d'Histoire naturelle, Departement Systematique et Evolution, France

Dr John Stevens; Research Fellow, CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Dr Tracey Sutton; Department of Fisheries Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William & Mary, US

Dr Boris Worm; Associate Professor, Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Canada

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