Countries around the world worked together on an unprecedented scale to prepare for implementation of new landmark shark protections that went into effect Sept. 14, 2014. Under these new rules, part of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, global trade in sharks that are commercially exploited in large numbers is being regulated for the first time.
A recent publication from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provides a detailed and thorough reports of the world’s shark fin trade. In addition to the common notions of shark finning and shark fin soup, the 187 page report touches on all aspects of the global trade of shark/elasmobranch products such as livers or liver oil, shark or ray skin, cartilage, jaws or rostra, or manta or mobula gill rakers. It offers country specific data on import and export as well as economic implications of the trade.
The report is available in PDF form and can be viewed in it’s entirety. Just click on the image below for a copy of the full publication and feel free to post your comments at the end of this blog.
Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
This publication focuses primarily on providing an updated picture of the world market for shark products using data that in many cases have only become available in recent years, such as origin and destination data. Where data are still lacking, an effort has been made to estimate the relevant figures through examination of the trade databases of the world’s major traders of shark products. This increased availability of data is believed to have allowed a more accurate – and up-to-date – initial evaluation of the relative importance of each country or territory, thus providing a more solid basis on which to target investigative efforts. The country-by-country assessments of shark fin trade recording practices also constitute another important area of focus that had not previously been addressed. However, given the primary objective of this study (above), those details that are necessarily not captured in such a broad-scale review will need to be identified and elucidated in regional or country-specific studies.
Big news! Sharks will continue to receive protection under California state law. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals just released an opinion upholding California’s shark fin ban as constitutional and not preempted by federal law. This is the first time a U.S. appellate court has weighed in conclusively on the issue of state shark fin laws, and it’s terrific to see the court coming down on the right side.
California’s shark fin ban was enacted in 2011 to end the consumption and trade of shark fins in the state, thereby weakening the market demand for fins and helping to protect shark populations. Shortly after the fin ban was passed, shark fin traders and dealers sued to invalidate the law, claiming that it was discriminatory against Chinese-Americans and was an “invalid burden on commerce.” They also tossed in an argument about preemption, claiming that California’s law conflicted with the federal fishery management statute, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. While this argument was just an afterthought at the time the case was filed, after three years and various twists and turns, it ended up being the central issue in the case.
Back in June 2013, fisherman caught an enormous female shortfin mako shark off Huntington Beach, California. The small group of fisherman were filming for Outdoor Channel reality television show, ‘Jim Shockey’s The Professionals’. Many had wondered why the shark wasn’t simply released. After the film and photos were over, the animal was donated to a scientific research group, and their findings were just published in the July issue of the Journal of Fish Biology.
In June 2013, a record-breaking female Isurus oxyrinchus (total length 373 cm, mass 600 kg) was captured by rod and reel off Huntington Beach, California, where it was subsequently donated to research and provided a rare opportunity to collect the first data for a female I. oxyrinchus of this size. Counts of vertebral band pairs estimate the shark to have been c. 22 years old, depending upon assumptions of band-pair deposition rates, and the distended uteri and spent ovaries indicated that this shark had recently given birth. The stomach contained a c.4 year-old female California sea lion Zalophus californianus that confirmed the high trophic position of this large I. oxyrinchus, which was corroborated with the high levels of measured contaminants and tissue isotope analyses.
The study determined that there were very high levels of a number of contaminants in the shark. After analyzing the liver, DDT levels were found to be 100 times the legal limit of consumption allowed by the EPA. PCBs were over 250 times the legal limit. Mercury, 45 times the legal limit for women and children to eat it. Both PCBs (a substance used in the manufacturing of electronics) and DDT (a pesticide) were outlawed back in the 1970s because of their known toxicity. Unfortunately, so much of those chemicals made it into the water that they have accumulated in the seabed.
Larger predators, such as sharks, end up having higher levels of these toxins due to bioaccumulation. While the smaller fish end up having some of the chemicals present, the larger animals that continually eat these smaller fish end up having much higher levels as a result. In addition, some of the toxins are passed to their offspring, perpetuating the problem.
We often hear these trophy hunts disguised as providing large quantities of food for families, communities, even indigent populations. Hopefully, studies like this will help to educate the public and lead to more animals being released alive back into the wild. There’s simply no good reason to kill and land an impressive shark like this.
It’s pretty scary to know that this is a major way that restaurants are obtaining shark fins for the menus.
Under EU rules, travellers are able to bring back 20kg of dried shark fin in their luggage under the same personal allowance rule that covers tobacco and alcohol.
An investigation by the charity, Bite-Back, suggests shark fins arriving in the UK through this personal allowance loophole allows travellers to sell their customs allowance for as much £3,500 to restaurants.
The 20kg allowance is enough to make 705 bowls of soup.
There is simply no other foodstuff on the list of personal imports that compares to the sharkfin loophole in terms of quantity and value. It is estimated that 20kg of shark fin is worth well of $5,000 USD on the black market. Clearly, 20kg could never be assumed for personal use only. This loophole allows for a virtually unregulated shark fin trade.
SIGN THE PETITION
Bite-Back Shark and Marine Conservation has prepared an online petition accumulating signatures to help shut down this loophole. Please take 30 seconds to add your signature to the list! You can find the petition on Care 2’s website.
The Cape Eleuthera Institute’s Shark Research and Conservation program just published an interesting article detailing a single observation made in the Bahamas during one of their studies back in 2012.
Few data are available on interspecific elasmobranch interactions during predation events. This report describes and discusses empirical data from a single event in which four sharks (species: Carcharhinus leucas, Galeocerdo cuvier, Sphyrna mokarran and Carcharhinus perezi) competed for foraging opportunities on a fifth shark (C. perezi) caught on an experimental longline. Analysis of video footage suggested competition was enforced without agonistic behaviour and access to the resource was not governed by size. The singularity of the data set and the artificiality of the situation limit the strength of the conclusions. The rarity of such an observation warrants, however, a published description of the event to provide an example of the behaviour of apex predator interactions in the field.
While sampling sharks off South Eleuthera, the research team was using the gangion rig depicted here:
In total, the study caught, sampled, and released 146 sharks, with the exception of one…the one this current publication is about. A Caribbean Reef Shark, Carcharhinus perezi, had just been hooked on the shark rig. For the next 90 minutes, a large Bull Shark, Carcharhinus leucas, circled the shark and eventually attacked and killed the shark. This predation event resulted in a Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) coming in to investigate. The entire event was caught on film and can be seen in this video:
While the great hammerhead was the largest of the three sharks, it only investigated the feeding opportunity briefly and seemed to be run off by the bull shark. Once the tiger shark showed up, however, the bull shark – who was significantly larger – lost the opportunity to feed. The tiger shark seemed to dominate every interaction it had with the other species, despite it’s smaller size.
The research group admits that complete interpretation of this single event, possibly swayed by the unnatural hooked condition of the reef shark, may be difficult. It does show, however, a very interesting interaction between species and offers a very rare insight into this behavior. Obviously, as the CEI group admits, replicating this to help better understand the interaction between species during predation would have some ethical issues.
To access the full text published paper, click here
Take a look at these interesting research articles:
More great news from Texas! We recently reported on our blog from June 1st that the proposed shark fin ban flew through the Texas Senate with an overwhelming 24-7 vote. The final stage in the legislation was for Texas state governor, Greg Abbott to sign the bill into law, which just happened on June 20, 2015!
While only the tenth state in the nation to enact such a law, the implications here are huge. Texas has seen a 240% increase in the state’s fin trade since 2010 after other states put similar laws in place. California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Washington have all banned the trade of shark fins.
Despite the fact that the practice of shark finning is illegal in the US, there is no federal legislation that prohibits the trade of shark fins through the country. Many unsustainable foreign fisheries utilize the US in the export of fins to Asia. They exploit nations where the inhumane practice is unregulated, or unenforced.
Texas is now the first Gulf Coast state in the nation to ban participation in the shark fin trade. We hope other states will follow the lead and that eventually the United States will be a hostile environment for the shark fin trade all together.
Heres a map (data from 2013) showing the dollar value of shark fin exports from the US:
Please urge your local representatives to consider similar legislation in your state!
A large and very pregnant, great hammerhead shark was recently killed by a group of fisherman in Destin Florida, aboard the boat Phoenix. The catch occurred greater than 3 miles offshore so current legislation to protect against this was irrelevant. This shows how ineffective the current protections can be.
Here’s a video of the shark being cut open at the dock and 33 pups removed from her womb. The sharks fins and jaw have already been removed in the video.
Warning: Graphic Content
Great Hammerhead sharks are listed as endangered on the IUCN (International Union on the Conservation of Nature) and currently protected in Florida waters.
Many in the shark community are already aware that these sharks are extremely vulnerable to stress and often die as a result of fighting on a fishing line. This is especially true of pregnant females. Because of this, current research on great hammerheads has changed practice and no longer relies on hook and line to study the animals. The researchers in Bimini are swimming alongside the great hammerheads and using a pole spear in insert tracking tags.
There has been quite a backlash against the fishing boat after they described their trophy on social media pages. The charter boat said that they would have released the shark, but it died in the long battle. This, to me, was an unnecessary death of 34 great hammerhead sharks, currently endangered. If a charter boat is going to go out and fish animals for sport, they should know the impact they are having. They should have known that this hammerhead was extremely unlikely to survive and the line should have been cut immediately.
It’s unfortunate to see an event like this and know that this is a sport, all for a trophy or photo. While commercial fishing efforts have the biggest impact on the current decline of shark populations worldwide, this trophy hunting behavior/sport is even more upsetting.
Great news on the political front in Texas.The shark fin bill, #HB1579 flew through the Senate with a 27 – 4 vote, according to a Texas newspaper.The bill was sponsored by Texas Democrat Eddie Lucio III and strongly supported by Senator Eddie Lucio, his father.This new legislation makes anything relating to the sale and purchase of shark fins or any products that come from shark fins a criminal offense.
Representative Lucio told The Humane Society of the United States that “sharks are the top predators in our water and serve a vital purpose within that ecosystem.Shark finning is an inhumane act banned on the Federal level, but we have to make sure Texas is not encouraging that illegal act by restricting what can be done with those fins.”The conservation organization, Oceana, estimates that half of the shark fin trade passing through the United States goes through Texas.
The final step in passing this legislation is the signature of the bill by Texas Governor Greg Abbot.If signed, Texas will join California, Oregon, Hawaii, Delaware, Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, where the trade of shark fins is already outlawed.
Most shark fins are destined for Asia, where they are the highly valued main ingredient in shark fin soup.Here, they also have a variety of other uses, such as in traditional medicines.To meet the high demand for shark fins, the cruel practice of shark finning has evolved where sharks are pulled from the ocean on baited hooks, stripped of the fins while still alive, and thrown back into the ocean where, unable to swim, they will drown.This allows the shark finning boats to reserve their cargo space for only the valuable fins.
MANILA, Philippines — Shark fin soup and other dishes from sharks and rays may soon disappear from the menu in restaurants and banquets if a bill pending at the House of Representatives becomes a law.
House Bill 5206 or the Sharks and Ray Conservation Act bans catching, selling, purchasing, possessing, transporting, importing, and exporting of all sharks and rays in the country.
The bill also prohibits the harming or killing sharks and rays in the course of catching other species of fish. Sharks and rays which are accidentally included in the catch in the course of catching other species will be immediately released unharmed to the sea, according to the bill.
To eliminate the demand that result in the massive killing of sharks and rays, the selling and serving of shark’s fin soup and all food menu with sharks and rays by-products shall be prohibited.
In line with the objectives of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, states should conserve, protect and sustain the management of the country’s sharks and ray population.
“The State shall ensure the maintenance of ecological balance and marine biodiversity for the benefit of present and future generation of Filipinos,” the measure said.
According to the bill, killing, destroying, or inflicting injury on sharks and rays will be punished with a fine of P100,000 to P1 million or imprisonment of a minimum of six years to 12 years.
Transporting, importing, and exporting sharks and rays and their by-products and derivatives will be penalized with a fine of P30,000 to P300,000, while catching, selling, or possessing such will be fined with P50,000 to P500,000.
It has been approved on third and final reading at the House of Representatives.