Fins follow the money: new study highlights need for better traceability and overview of shark trade
Hong Kong, 8th November 2016—The shark fin trade in East Asia changes rapidly depending on where and how profits can be made, highlighting the needs for better traceability and a global overview of the markets according to a new TRAFFIC study published today.
Shark fin and mobulid ray gill plate trade in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan (PDF, 2 MB) finds the trade in these products is highly dynamic. For example, the re-exportation of shark fins from Hong Kong, which handles up to 40% of the global trade, has changed markedly in recent years: the volume heading to mainland China, traditionally the biggest importer, significantly dropped in 2010, but was offset after Viet Nam became the largest importer of shark fins from Hong Kong in 2010, 2013 and 2014. According to the study, Viet Nam may only be acting as a transit point for the re-routing of shark fins to other consumer markets, further adding to the complex situation.
“Shifting trade routes in recent years means it’s no longer safe to conclude that a decrease in imports in mainland China, for example, equates to a drop in the overall global shark fin and meat trade,” said Joyce Wu, a Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC and an author of the new study. “You need to see the bigger picture to appreciate fully what’s actually going on.”
The trade complexities are further compounded by inconsistent data recording systems, which mean regulating the shark fin trade in the region is severely hampered, a situation compounded by an untraceable market supply making it impossible to demonstrate whether fins originate from sustainable sources and have been legally harvested.
Furthermore, shopkeepers in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan did not know the shark species of 85% of the shark fins categories they offered for sale.
“The complex market dynamics and lack of even basic information about the species in trade and their origin underline the need for the introduction of clear traceability systems to track precisely what was traded, where it went and where it ended up,” said Glenn Sant, TRAFFIC’s Fisheries Programme Leader.
Last month in South Africa the Silky Shark, three thresher sharks and nine devil rays were included alongside the five commercially fished shark and two manta ray species already listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The listing affords the species protection though introducing permitting requirements to ensure trade is carried out at sustainable levels. Government representatives at CITES also endorsed plans to develop traceability systems and training to improve implementation of the existing sharks and ray listings.
“CITES provides a golden opportunity for governments to develop traceability systems for shark and ray species that can be applied from harvest to market,” said Sant.
“Traceability holds the key to strengthening the backbone of sustainable and legal trade in shark and ray products—it’s all about feeling confident that when you read the fine print it tells you the products are legal and sustainable.”
TRAFFIC has previously developed guidelines for making Non-Detriment Findings (NDFs), the mechanism used by CITES Parties to determine whether trade is at sustainable levels.
“Absolutely critical to long-term viability of shark and ray populations is ensuring their products in trade are being sourced legally and sustainably,” said Sant.
The current overfishing of sharks is largely driven by the global trade for their highly-valued products, including fins, meat, leather, liver oil and cartilage; and in the case of manta/devil rays, gill plates. Shark fin is in high demand as a traditional delicacy while ray gill plates are used as a medicinal tonic.
The latest study was conducted to provide an improved understanding of the current market dynamics for shark fins and mobulid ray gill plates by analysing different data sources, including CITES trade data, Customs data, online and physical market surveys in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The study was carried out as part of TRAFFIC’s joint programme of work through the Global Sharks and Rays Initiative, a partnership comprising TRAFFIC, Shark Advocates International, the Shark Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF and advised by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, who have developed a global 10-year strategy to conserve sharks and rays: Global Priorities for Conserving Sharks and Rays that was released in February 2016.