Report by Shark Info
Shark meat is eaten practically around the world. In several third world
countries it is even considered the primary source of protein. The
sustainable exploitation of shark meat can be realistically justified
when catch limitations and closed seasons are observed. However, the
increasing excessive and uncontrolled exploitation of shark populations
around the globe (e.g. cutting off sharks' fins - finning - for shark
fish soup) is unacceptable.
Shark fin soup: Status symbol
which triggered the boom in fin trading.
© D. Perrine / Shark Foundation
The origin of shark fin soup goes back more than 2000 years presumably
to southern China. Apart from any real nutritional value, shark fin soup
has turned into a social event and status symbol. Soup fins consist of
tasteless cartilage sticks and are very expensive.
The status of a family in Asian regions thus depends on how
good or how much variety their cooks can put into preparing shark fin
menus. Shark fin soup is a preferred dish served at weddings, birthday
parties, business meetings or celebrations, or also during the Chinese
New Year, the main annual Chinese celebration. The prosperity of those
who invite people to one of these occasions is measured by the size
(width and thickness) of the cartilage sticks since these determine the
price of the fins.
It is thus not surprising that in Asia any attempts
by single restaurants to replace fins with some other piece of cartilage
failed. Guests insisted on seeing entire fins swimming in their soup.
Only then could their authencity be guaranteed.
The market for shark
fins is constantly rising. Since practically no laws or regulations
exist with regard to finning, only fragmentary statistics as to the
amounts imported and exported are available. Yet the few numbers known
give cause for alarm.
In 1980 official statistics registered the trading
of approximately 3,000 tons of shark fins, but the real amount is
certainly much higher.
Statistics from Taiwan, Singapore and the
worldwide center of fin trading, Hong Kong, indicate an explosive
increase in the trading of shark fins. Official reports from the Hong
Kong customs authorities report that 6,954 tons of shark fins were
cleared for re-export in 1999, most of them destined for Taiwan,
Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and China. China alone imported 3,000 tons of
fins from Hong Kong.
Today, China must be considered the largest market
for shark fins. The slackening of the laws and the acceptance of western
affluence resulted in the birth of a middle class consisting of
approximately 250 million people who can all afford shark fin soup. Up
until 1987 China was only an irrelevant participant in the marketing and
consumption of shark fins since the government was opposed to the
concept of prosperity and shark fin soup was considered an inappropriate
status symbol. The economic upswing in Peking and Shanghai turned into a
basis for prosperity and hence into a market for shark fins so that
China began to fish sharks. Catch quantities are unknown, but the number
of high-powered ships (500 BRT) appropriate for shark fishing increased
from one ship in the year 1975 to 26 ships in 1992. In 1996 Shanghai
itself already owned 64 ships. Chinese fishing boats are seen mainly in
the northern Pacific, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Taiwan ranks five
in international shark fin trading, maintaining the largest fishing
fleet which fishes primarily in international waters, away from their
own territorial waters. Local Taiwanese fishermen land approximately 430
tons of fish per year, as compared to official reports of 34,000 tons of
fish caught by the international Taiwanese fleet. Still, experience has
shown that this number is far below the actually landed fish.
Astonishingly, local fisheries process the entire shark, while Taiwanese
high-sea fisheries are only interested in the fins. In 1998 Taiwan had
2,325 longliners, 1,530 gill net fishing boats, 2,161 otter trawlers, 56
bull trawlers and an unknown number of dragnet fishing boats. Not
included in these numbers are FOC ships (FOC = flag of convenience,
see box below), in other words, ships registered under
High import taxes are another reason why Taiwan has progressively become
a hub for shark fin products. According to law only Taiwanese ships can
unload their freight duty free in Taiwan, while other ships pay a 42%
import duty. On the high seas Taiwanese ships thus take aboard the fins
from other countries who wish to export to Taiwan. One of the most
important such suppliers is Spain, while the Canary Islands are also
doing their share to establish themselves as a center for fin trading.
Singapore is another fin trading center in addition to Taiwan and Hong
Kong, but since it publishes no data, figures must be estimated based on
foreign nation exports to Singapore. Since its own fishing fleet is
small, it is more a port of call used to transship cargo.
Advantages of the "Flag of Convenience"
Taiwanese ships which operate
under an FOC are, for example, registered in Panama. A Taiwanese ship
travelling under a Panamian flag can thus fish in the territorial waters
of those states who normally do not grant Taiwanese ships a fishing
In 1996 20% of all international ships operated under FOC cover
and harvested 46% of the total fishing volume.
Finning is constantly on the rise and so are the prices because sharks
are becoming more and more rare. Current prices have already risen to
USD 100 per kilogram. If worldwide shark populations are to be saved,
then the finning market must be fought at all costs.
governments have made attempts at banning or at least limiting finning
practices, but in the end this will not suffice to save the populations
of the world's oceans. Canada put a ban on finning in 1994 which in its
initial phases could not be successfully enforced. And it was not until
the introduction of a management plan in 1997 that this ban could in
some way be guaranteed. Brazil followed Canada's example and in 1998
passed a finning ban for all ships fishing within Brazil's 200-mile
zone. And in December 2000 the U.S. also officially passed a finning ban
for all U.S. territorial waters. Further restrictions have been passed
in South Africa, England, Mauretania, Mexico, Malta, Namibia, Oman, the
Philippines and Israel.
A start has thus been made and hope remains that
additional countries will follow their lead.
May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info