(SHARK FINNING) TAIWAN — A recent investigation allowed Pew Environmental Group to gather shocking images of the Chinese shark fin industry in action. The photos reveal the process of the shark fin market from the boat to the processing plant with all showing a grueling display of cruelty to sharks. Taiwan Fisheries Agency signed a ban on shark finning beginning next year. However, the irony of the ban allows sharks to still be hunted, yet fishermen are required to return to land with sharks’ fins intact. Too small a step toward ending this inhumane act? You decide. — Global Animal
National Geographic, Helen Scales
Released October 19, the images show fins and body parts of vulnerable shark species—including the scalloped hammerhead and oceanic whitetip—being prepared for sale.
Up to 73 million sharks are caught each year for the global fin trade, which fuels a demand for shark-fin soup, according to Pew. Fishers usually slice the animals’ fins off and throw their still-living bodies overboard.
“Unfortunately, since there are no limits on the number of these animals that can be killed in the open ocean, this activity can continue unabated,” Pew’s Matt Randsaid in a statement. “This strip-mining of the world’s sharks is clearly unsustainable.”
On October 21 the Taiwan Fisheries Agency announced a ban starting next year on shark finning, but the ban only mandates that caught sharks be taken back to shore with their fins still attached.
“This announcement is an indication that Taiwan is on the right track when it comes to protecting sharks. However, it falls short of what is really needed,” Rand said. “A finning ban does not address the larger overfishing problem that is driving these animals toward extinction.”
Shark fishing in Taiwan involves both large-scale fleets using so-called long-line fishing in international waters as well as small, local fishing boats operating closer to shore, experts say.
In Taiwan, 85 percent of sharks caught come from the high seas, Glenn Sant of TRAFFIC—a global wildlife-trade monitoring network—said by email.
The International Union for Conservation of Naturelists more than half of open-ocean shark species as threatened or near-threatened with extinction.
Each year an estimated 1.3 to 2.7 million smooth and scalloped hammerheads are caught for their fins globally, experts say.
Scalloped hammerheads are especially vulnerable to overfishing. That’s because the sharks are slow-growing—they can take up to 17 years to reach maturity—and females have a long gestation period. A long pregnancy limits the ability of hammerhead populations to recover once depleted.
Overall, “sharks play a critical role in the ocean environment,” Pew’s Jill Hepp said in a statement. “Where shark populations are healthy, marine life thrives; but where they have been overfished, ecosystems fall out of balance,” Hepp said.
“Taiwan has been one of the five largest catchers of sharks globally for decades,” TRAFFIC’s Sant said by email. Sant also co-authored a January report, produced jointly by TRAFFIC and Pew, that ranked the world’s shark-catching countries. The top ten are Indonesia, India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, the United States, Japan, and Malaysia.
Taiwan’s new plan to ban on shark finning, which will begin in 2012, means that fishers will need to bring whole sharks, with their fins attached, back to port. This will limit the volume of fish that can be carried on board a vessel, TRAFFIC’s Sant noted. The law is “a welcome move by one of the top five shark catchers,” he said. However, a finning ban “does not set limits on how many sharks can be killed,” Pew’s Rand said in a statement. “As such, the hunt will continue.”
As well as international demand for shark-fin soup, there’s also a significant market in Taiwan for shark meat, TRAFFIC’s Joyce Wu said via email. Some shark bodies are landed to supply meat demand, but there’s concern that distant water fleets could be finning, due to lack of access to freezing facilities. Once the fins have been removed, most shark meat in Taiwan is processed into fish paste and other fish products, she added.
Thirty percent of all shark species are now threatened or near threatened with extinction, due largely to unregulated fishing, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“Our main concern is that it is difficult to demonstrate that the [shark] catch is from well managed or sustainable sources,” TRAFFIC’s Sant said. “It begs the question whether the trade in shark products should be allowed to continue until this problem is resolved.”
More Shark Fin Photos, National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/10/pictures/111028-shark-conservation-ecology-preservation-biodiversity-animals/