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Wildlife Trade Specialists

Participants learning how to identify shark fins in trade © TRAFFIC

Participants learning how to identify shark fins in trade © TRAFFIC

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Published 2nd November 2018

New tools to help shark fin identification and determination of trade sustainability

Taiwan, 2nd November 2018—More than 50 frontline enforcement officers from Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency, Customs, Coast Guard Administration, Ocean Conservation Administration and academic shark researchers from National Taiwan University, and the National Taiwan Ocean University attended a shark fin identification workshop hosted by TRAFFIC this week in Taipei.


The CITES Shark Species Identification Capacity Building Workshop was jointly organised by BLOOM Association Hong Kong, the Taiwan Fisheries Agency, Taipei Zoo and TRAFFIC. The training aimed to help authorities in Taiwan improve their shark and ray identification techniques and learn more about international shark and ray products.

Twelve shark and eleven mobulid ray species are now listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—which means their international trade is regulated under a system of import, export and re-export permits.

For sharks, one of the most problematic products in the trade associated with illegality is shark fin (and related products, such as unprocessed fins with cartilage). Implementation is particularly difficult owing to similarities in appearance between fins of CITES and non-CITES listed species. 

Precise identification of the species and products in trade is a highly specialised skill that needs to be mastered by customs officers and fishery inspectors and observers for which expert tuition was provided by speakers from Abercrombie & Fish, BLOOM, Blue Resource Trust, National Taiwan University and National Taiwan Ocean University with expertise in fisheries and TRAFFIC.

Topics covered included the identification of shark fins and mobulid ray gill plates for CITES-listed species, implementation of CITES and trade management of sharks, and shark fin trade in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Debra Abercrombie from Abercrombie & Fish spoke about identification of shark fins, which was followed by a practical hands-on training session where she was assisted by Stan Shea from BLOOM. 

Taiwan has developed shark fin identification using DNA techniques, but the workshop was the first time trainees had been able to practice their identification skills by visual inspection. 

Taiwan Fisheries Agency and shark researchers also got together to familiarise themselves with implementation of Non-Detriment Findings (NDFs) for sharks. NDFs are the mechanism used by CITES Parties to determine whether trade is at sustainable levels. 

An electronic spreadsheet was introduced by Daniel Fernando from Blue Resource Trust to assist the Fisheries Agency in developing NDFs for CITES listed shark and ray species. 

“Taiwan is one of the largest shark fishing entities and needs to ensure that sharks are harvested and traded in a legal and sustainable fashion,” said Joyce Wu, Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC.  

“This week’s shark fin identification and NDF workshop will assist Taiwan in developing implementation and enforcement capabilities to ensure that sharks are harvested in a sustainable way and illegal shark fin does not enter into trade.”

“Visual shark fin identification is a reliable tool that can help speed up inspection processes at trading ports, making CITES implementation more efficient and more effective,” said Stan Shea, Marine Programme Director of BLOOM Association Hong Kong. 

“The skill is applied by many governments around the world, and we are happy to see Taiwan take the initiative in this capacity building effort.”

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Shark Specialist Group, 24% of the world’s Chondrichthyan (cartilaginous) fishes are threatened with extinction. 

The workshop addressed an important component of Taiwan’s role in combatting the illegal shark fishery. The workshop was supported by the Shark Conservation Fund.