Saturday, January 5, 2013

Deconstructing Shark Fin Industry Spin

Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

The South China Morning Post has an article this morning, Shark fin trade 'victim of anti-Chinese conspiracy', says traders.  It is full of political propaganda from the Hong Kong Shark Fin Trade Merchants Association.

The association's chairman, Ho Siu-chai must have read David Shiffman's recent blog 13 Things... because in the article Ho said his industry was being targeted by an anti-Chinese conspiracy led by "Western" environmental groups. "They always blame us for cutting off fins and dumping carcasses at sea. This is not true and is distorted," he said.

The leading shark conservation organizations rarely talk about shark finning unless they are talking about shark finning.  In the last year, shark finning has only been discussed in the EU, Venezuela, and some of the regional fisheries management organizations.  However, with the exception of Venezuela, the discussion was about taking the existing shark finning ban using the 5% rule and switching it to a shark finning ban using fins naturally attached, thus closing some loopholes.

Discussions about shark overfishing and the scale of the shark fin trade are a completely different issue.  Shark finning bans should not be mistaken for shark conservation and management.  Shark finning only determines how a shark is killed, not how many sharks are killed, or rather, how many sharks live.

We cannot let the industry confuse our messaging on the need for shark conservation.  143 species of shark are assessed as threatened or near threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Stock assessments show that there are species in every ocean that are overfished, and that despite this, overfishing is still occurring.  The threats to sharks from industrial overfishing are real.  The scale of the fishery and the fact that there are no catch limits in place and that stock assessments are rare is shocking and completely unsustainable.

The owner of Shark's Fin City, veteran trader Kwong Hung-kwan was also quoted in the story.  "It's getting more difficult to do business in the city because of the conservationists," Kwong said. "That's why traders now import less."

Germs did not start killing people only after Louis Pasteur made his discoveries in the 19th Century, and shark catches are not low because conservationists say they are overfished.  There are many reasons why the shark fin trade may be decreasing, and most of them are related to the people who are killing sharks.  And sharks aren't the only fish whose numbers are down.  Bluefin tuna have become so rare and valuable that a single fish sold for US$1.76 million this morning in Tokyo.

Additionally, the argument that conservation kills jobs is not a new one.  But in places that protect sharks like Palau, Honduras, Maldives, and The Bahamas, sharks are job creators.  The loss of dead sharks might be harmful for the traders in Hong Kong, but living sharks are a boon to the dive shops, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses in the developing world.

In our 10 Things You Can Do To Protect Sharks, Shark Defenders lists Educate yourself about the global situation of sharks as the first item. The shark conservation movement requires informed, intelligent advocates if we are to be successful.  The more you know, the better you will be able to help protect sharks.

Alyssa Sablan is Shark Defender's student intern.


MJW said...

The record price paid for that tuna in the first auction of the season does not represent the going rate for these fish. It is largely a publicity stunt. It is an honor to win the first bid of the season and the price more accurately reflects the desire of the bidder to gain bragging rights. That fish was a Pacific Bluefin Tuna and is currently IUCN listed as least concern.

Shark Defenders said...

Agreed. Culture played a part, including the reality that they are overfished and that overfishing is occurring.

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