Multi-billion dollar Asian shark fin industry under pressure
The seedy business of shark fishing is coming under increasing pressure in its own main market – Asia. It's a business that could be worth over USD30 billion a year.
The latest move against the business was the announcement of Singapore's supermarket chain Cold Storage (a subsidiary of Dairy Farm International Holdings) that it has joined the WWF Singapore Sustainable Seafood Group with a commitment to stop selling shark fin and shark products in its 42 outlets across the country. As Singapore is the second largest processor of shark fin, this is a significant development.
It comes only days after the world's largest shark sanctuary was announced by the Marshall Islands government in the Pacific ocean. Covering nearly two million sq km (750,000 sq miles) of ocean, an area roughly the size of Indonesia, it will be illegal to commercially fish shark and the islands have banned any trade in shark products.
The obsession of many ethnic Chinese for shark fin soup, primarily consumed as an ostentatious display of wealth, is the main reasons that many shark species have become a global endangered species. Pollution and habitat loss have also contributed to the problem which has led to about a third of ocean-going sharks being placed on the internationally-recognised Red List of Threatened Species.
The Red List, compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, has registered 181 sharks and related species as being at various stages of threat and danger, up from just 15 in 1996. On top of that, Global Shark Conservation at the Pew Environment Group says that more than 30 percent of shark species are at risk of extinction
The business is huge. Traffic, an international network that monitors the trade in wildlife, said up to 73 million sharks are killed every year, primarily for their fins. Finning is a method in which fishermen cut off the fins and toss the bleeding shark back to the sea to die a brutal death. All this for “a translucent, tasteless bit of noodle” and “one of the greatest scams of all time”, costing up to USD35 per bowl.
Estimates on the value of the shark fin business is difficult to calculate but China together with Taiwan and Hong Kong, consumes 95 percent of the world’s shark fin catch. The growing demand for an increasingly wealthy Chinese global community has had devastating effects.
General calculations can, however, be made. Making a conservative estimate, a report by National Geographic in 2006 estimated that 38 million sharks were killed for the fin industry per year (nearly half the total deaths currently averaged). Specialty markets pay up to USD213 per kilogram for shark fin and fins typically make up 5 percent of the shark’s body weight.
Naturally weights between species differ; great white shark can weigh up to 2,250 kilograms while a blue shark averages a weight of 150 kilograms. Taking five percent of a blue shark's weight makes a fin worth USD1,597 and an assumption that the average weight of a shark catch is half the blue shark means the industry could be worth over USD30 billion.
Malaysia, the world's tenth biggest catcher of sharks has seen the state of Sabah, known for its world-class diving sites, demanding a ban on shark fishing. Its State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun said the state government hopes the law can be changed by the end of this year since that over the past 25 years, about 80 percent of the state’s sharks had disappeared and they could now only be spotted at four sites