Fishing & Finning: Influence of Asian Fishing Markets

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes the number or poundage of fish unloaded by commercial fishermen or brought to shore by recreational fishermen for personal use as a “landing” (Blackhart, Stanton, & Shimada, 2006). Since 1950, which marked the first year fisheries management began recording elasmobranch landings, elasmobranch landings have increased 227% globally, peaking in 2003 (Davidson, Krawchuk, & Dulvy, 2016). In the Gulf of Mexico alone, shark landings tripled in a single decade from 1980 to 1989 (Ward-Paige et al., 2010).

Dubai fish market
Thorrold, S. (Photographer) (n.d.) Dubai fish market [Digital Image] Retrieved from http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/v2/article/images.do?id=178909

The driving force behind the increased landings has been the dramatic increase in demand for seafood, primarily in East Asia which has a strong influence on the global market demand (Clarke, 2004). In developing third world countries, local resources are being exploited to supply international markets (Clarke, 2004). Sharks are primarily harvested for their fins alone due to low demand for shark meat with fluctuating markets for skin, oil, liver, and teeth (Clarke, 2004).

Dying for Fins: A shark story from Hong Kong
Chung, C. (Photographer). (2016) Dying for Fins: A shark story from Hong Kong [Digital Image] Retrieved from http://intca.org/2016/03/dying-for-fins/

Hong Kong has been the center of the shark fin trade for decades, importing fins from over 125 countries (Clarke, 2004). In China, shark fin, or yu chi, has been a delicacy since the Sung dynasty. It is usually prepared as a soup by removing the collagen fibers from between the cartilage in the fins and boiling them in a stock (Clarke, 2004).

Shark Fin Soup
Shark fin soup [Digital Image] (2007, November 21) Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Shark_fin_soup#/media/File:Chinese_cuisine-Shark_fin_soup-04.jpg

And the fins are highly profitable on the Hong Kong market. Shark fins are one of the most expensive seafood products in the world, bringing in US$400 per kilogram in Hong Kong (Clarke, 2004). In one Hong Kong market, an estimated 30 to 40 shark species fins were available for sale, including the largest shark in the ocean the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), which is an Appendix II CITES protected species (CITES, 2001).

Dried whale shark fins
WildLifeRisk (Photographer) (2014) Dried whale shark fins [Digital Image] Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-activists-who-exposed-a-chinese-factory-processing-endangered-whale-sharks-posed-as-seafood-buyers-2014-2

In response to the increasing pressure from Asian markets to supply shark fins, the United States has issued a national ban on finning within its waters (Fowler et al., 2005). Other countries, such as Australia, Brazil, the European Union, South Africa, and Oman, have either prohibited or issued controlled shark finning within their waters (Fowler et al., 2005). Despite some limitation on finning, there has been very little progress limiting the number of sharks which may be landed throughout the world each year (Clarke, 2004; Fowler et al., 2005). An examination of elasmobranchs in the Caribbean suggested that if the fishing industry were to remove 10% of the current populations per year, we could see a decline up to 14% of some elasmobranch species in the Caribbean within the next 50 years (Ward-Paige et al., 2010). If fishing mortality rates were increased to 50% each year, all examined elasmobranchs declined to less than 1% of their initial population size within the next 10 to 39 years (Ward-Paige et al., 2010).

Shark Finning
Bali Animal Welfare Association (n.d.) Shark Finning [Digital Image] Retrieved from http://bawabali.com/our-programs/responsible-tourism/shark-finning/

Recent studies in the Caribbean suggest that shark populations occur in higher densities where human population densities are lower (Ward-Paige et al., 2010). In a study that conducted surveys in the Caribbean from 1993 to 2008, sharks were largely absent in areas around Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, South and Central American, and the Antilles where human populations are high (Ward-Paige et al., 2010). However, both sharks and humans were found in high densities in areas around Florida, the US Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas (Ward-Paige et al., 2010).

The Bahamas satellite map
The Bahamas satellite map [Digital Image] (2006) Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Bahamas_satellite_map.jpg

These regions are known for strong fishing regulations that help support healthy elasmobranch communities, including establishing marine protected areas, prohibiting the use of gillnets, and longline fishing, and most perhaps most importantly prohibiting shark finning (Ward-Paige et al., 2010). High human population densities in these regions alongside healthy shark populations suggest that while other anthropogenic influences, such as habitat degradation and loss, and climate change, may be affecting shark population decline, the main driving factor of population decline is likely over-exploitation due to fishing (Knip, Heupel, & Simpfendorfer, 2010; Ward-Paige et al., 2010).

Thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus) fatally caught in fishing net, Mexico
Skerry, B.J. (Photographer). (n.d.) Thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus) fatally caught in fishing net, Mexico [Digital Image] Retrieved from http://www.worldwildlife.org/photos/shark-caught-in-a-fishing-net

I know these stats and images are hard to take in. But this is the truth we are facing. Within our lifetime we could see an ocean without sharks if we continue to live the way we are. You have the ability to make change. My next post give you information on charities and organizations  that you can donate time or money to to help these causes, but the best thing you can do at any time is call your Congress man or woman and tell them that you care about keeping sharks in our oceans!

Sign a Petition to Tell Congress to Ban the Trade of Shark Fins in the United States Sign Today!

Check out these US restaurants that serve Shark Fin Products. Boycott, Call, Mail, etc. Tell them you refuse to support them as a business if they continue these practices!

Make better informed choices about your seafood with SeaFood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Next time I’ll show you how you can make a difference for sharks and rays!! As always I appreciate your comments and feedback! Thanks for roughing it out with me!

For those who haven’t seen Rob Stewart’s Sharkwater documentary, I cannot recommend it enough!

Stewart, R. [shinyhappypeople]. (2016, March 12). Sharkwater . Retrieved April 13, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZ1ZtJJi0c4

As always I encourage comments and feedback! Thanks for roughing it out!

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Featured Image Source

Hong Kong Market [Digital Image] Retrieved from http://www.finfighters.org/whysavesharks/

Literature Cited

Blackhart, K., Stanton, D.G., and Shimada, A. M. (2006). NOAA fisheries glossary: NOAA technical memorandum NMFS-F/SPO-69. Retrieved from http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st4/documents/FishGlossary.pdf

CITES. (2001). Whale Shark. Retrieved March 26, 2017, from https://cites.org/eng/gallery/species/fish/whale_shark.html

Clarke, S. (2004). Understanding pressures on fishery resources through trade statistics: A pilot study of four products in the Chinese dried seafood market. Fish and Fisheries, 5(1), 53–74.

Davidson, L. N. K., Krawchuk, M. A., & Dulvy, N. K. (2016). Why have global shark and ray landings declined: Improved management or overfishing? Fish and Fisheries, 17(2).

Fowler, S. L., Cavanagh, R. D., Camhi, M., Burgess, G. H., Cailliet, G. M., Fordham, S. V., … Musick, J. A. (2005). Sharks, rays and chimaeras: The status of the chondrichthyan fishes. IUCN- The World Conservation Union (Vol. 14).

Knip, D. M., Heupel, M. R., & Simpfendorfer, C. A. (2010). Sharks in nearshore environments: models, importance, and consequences. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 402, 1–11.

Stewart, R. (2008). Sharkwater. Montreal: Sharkwater Production & Diatribe Pictures.

Ward-Paige, C. A., Mora, C., Lotze, H. K., Pattengill-Semmens, C., McClenachan, L., Arias-Castro, E., & Myers, R. A. (2010). Large-scale absence of sharks on reefs in the greater-Caribbean: A footprint of human pressures. PLoS ONE, 5(8).

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