Published 26 March 2021

Global vaccination programmes at risk without careful stewardship of critical wild ingredients such as shark squalene

Cambridge, UK – 26 March 2021: Governments must prioritise the sustainability of their vaccination programmes if they are to prevent risks from an improper stewardship of wild ingredients used in vaccines. This warning from TRAFFIC comes in light of the news earlier this week from IUCN that an extra 39 species of sharks and rays are now facing extinction in the wild.

The Lemon Shark Negaprion brevirostris is one of several once-common reef sharks that are now threatened. Photo: Albert Kok

Shark liver oil (squalene) is used in a wide range of products including in vaccines, which has highlighted the plight of sharks in COVID times, as the world races to control the pandemic. No matter what use is destined for shark liver oil, the immediate consideration and long-term goal must be around sustainability and the appropriate stewardship of critical wild ingredients. Until there are clear traceable products of shark liver oil from sustainable and legal sources, renewable alternatives from the agriculture sector should be used as much as possible.

For too long, the default in trading sharks and rays has been to prove there is a problem before fishing is curtailed. Yet the burden of proof should be with proving the origin of products sourced from sustainable and legal fisheries and using renewable alternatives from the agriculture sector in the absence of established data where it is possible, such as in the case of liver oil.”

Glenn Sant, Senior Advisor on Fisheries Trade and Traceability at TRAFFIC

Shark populations have a history of being quickly depleted when targeted, particularly deep water species which contain the highest quality shark liver oil. This, linked with them taking many years to reach maturity and having few young, heightens the importance to recognise the potential depletion of shark and ray species in the bid to control a pandemic.

Assessments for 89 shark and ray species were published in yesterday’s update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM. Thirty nine of these species moved into a threatened category (Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered), bringing the total number of sharks and rays listed as threatened with extinction to 355 species.

Glenn Sant added: “Developing vaccines with shark liver oil may help protect people in the short-term but it comes with a long-term pain for shark sustainability. It is a no-win situation for the wild species involved, nor the long-term availability of the ingredients for something as important as lifesaving vaccinations, unless sustainability is at the fore front of our thinking.”

About IUCN

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership Union uniquely composed of both government and civil society organisations. It provides public, private and non-governmental organisations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together. For more information visit: