Unless you have been living under a rock, most of us would be aware of the dire situation that sharks are facing today. Stemming from a Chinese tradition of serving shark’s fin soup at prestigious banquets, the unsustainable and brutal killing of sharks to meet the demand has left sharks in a struggle for survival.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 2014 report, the global catch of sharks and rays peaked in 2003, and has since dropped by approximately 20 percent. This is good news for sharks, and for us as well, bearing in mind that sharks are a key player in the oceans’ ecosystem. As the word continues to spread, it seems that more nations are joining in the movement, including the original consumers themselves, the Chinese. In a 2014 study on the decline of shark fin demand in China, WildAid noted that shark fin consumption in China has dropped by 50–70 percent since 2011. Similarly, an analysis of worldwide customs and trade data published in the journal Biological Conservation in 2015 by Eriksson and Clarke confirms that shark-fin trade has dropped by approximately 25 percent over the last decade.
In the same report by WildAid, a shift in trade from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, China, had been found. Hong Kong, the epicentre of the global shark fin trade between 1980 and 1990, has been facing a decline in imports since the year 2000. Now, the bulk of all shark fins enter Guangzhou directly by ship, which has since hindered the accessibility of shark fin trade data.
In an effort to gain a better understanding of the shark fin trade trend in Guangzhou, WildAid interviewed 15 shark fin vendors and traders from two key market areas in Guangzhou. They found that vendors have been experiencing an 82 percent decline in sales and a significant decrease in prices (47% retail and 57% wholesale) over the past two years.
The study also conducted a consumer survey in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu, garnering 1,568 respondents. It found that 85% of Chinese consumers have given up shark fin soup within the past three years, and two-thirds of these respondents cited awareness campaigns as a reason for ending their shark fin consumption.
Across the South China Sea, similar sentiments have been echoed in Indonesia. The report also found that there has been an 80 percent decline in prices paid to fishermen in Tanjung Luar and Lombok since 2007, as well as a 19 percent decline since 2002 in Central Maluku, Southeastern Maluku and East Nusa Tenggara.
However, the demand for shark fins is not the only threat that sharks face, though it is often positioned as the main threat to sharks. According to the FAO’s 2015 report “State of the Global Market for Shark Products” by Dent and Clarke, a global, interdependent market for a range of shark products exist across a growing number of countries. The shark meat trade is following an increasing trend, with South America and Europe among the world’s top shark meat consumers.
More recently, there has been a corporate movement by hotels, restaurants, and airlines in Asia against the support of shark products, specifically shark’s fin soup. In 2018 alone, 89 Singapore establishments from the hospitality industry pledged to take shark’s fin soup and other shark products off the menu over the course of the year. This was after the alarming report published by Traffic and the World Wide Fund of Nature (WWF) in 2017, identifying Singapore as the second largest re-exporter and importer of shark fins worldwide after Hong Kong.
With the overwhelming pessimism centred around sharks and the shark fin trade, it is promising to hear of positive progress in the recent years. If nations continue to work towards sustainable and ethical trade, then we may just start to see the horizon.