Shark fin soups not endangering sharks, marine experts say
Dr Giam Choo Hoo, a member of a United Nations body on endangered species, told a seminar organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore that the majority of sharks are not killed to feed the tastes of increasingly-wealthy Chinese consumers who consider the dish a status symbol.
“Most fins are humanely taken from landed, dead sharks,” said Dr Giam, a committee member on the UN Conventional on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was reported saying in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article published yesterday.
The former Singapore chief veterinary officer cited research showing 80 per cent of the 73 million sharks killed each year are in fact caught accidentally, and overwhelmingly in developing countries such as India and Indonesia, where its “mostly poor” fishermen devour every part of the shark but the fin, which they will sell off to eager buyers.
The WSJ reported that other speakers on the ISEAS panel that included Shark Savers Malaysia chairman Steve Oakley and conservation group Species Management Specialists president Hank Jenkins, also supported Dr Giam’s argument that banning shark fin itself will not lead to a vast drop in the number of sharks fished and killed, contrary to media hype based on widely-circulated images showing bloodied sharks struggling as their fins are hacked off.
The trio admitted that there was a need to review regulation of the industry but said the process of cutting off the sharks’ fins, then throwing the fish back into the sea, also known as “live finning” — which has become a rallying point for many animal rights groups — is not relevant practice and is widely-condemned by the fishing industry.
The influential international daily reported that consumers have argued that stopping the sale of the dish is at root a form of Sinophobia, with activists unfairly targeting Chinese consumers rather than European or North American consumers who consume large quantities of bluefin tuna, caviar and other potentially “unsustainable” foods.
Dr Giam noted that many countries such as Germany, France, Australia and Iceland have long killed sharks for their meat and that the practice has not endangered the overall supply of the fish.
He added that only six species of shark, out of 400, have been considered endangered by the UN’s CITES and compared it to under-regulated fishing practices that have depleted tuna stocks in many parts of the world.
“Shark’s fin soup is culturally discriminatory,” Dr Giam was reported saying.