Shark Fin Soup Anyone? – part 3

Change – How long the path?

This article is the third part of a series of articles that looks briefly at one aspect of the host of threats facing our world and the attempts of conservationists to hold back disaster. In this case its shark-finning, a huge industry providing for the avaricious vanity of human beings. Ecotourism is often heralded as a way to make more valuable the preservation of our natural resources, to validate the effort and costs of preservation and to discourage exploitation, but can it help the sharks?

What would you say?

Simon Spear made this conservation themed short film about our Ocean and just a few of the many challenges that lie ahead but…

Still a long road ahead

Lets be clear this is not about changing a few ethnic fisherman’s attitude when they are weighing up whether they should consider “shark welfare” at the expense of  their “income and the food in their bellies”. The Shark Fin soup industry is a multi billion dollar industry worldwide.

Giam Choo Hoo is the longest serving member of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This is the most preeminent UN multilateral treaty and body for ensuring that the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild. Speaking in the Straits Times(Singapore) in 2006 ( he refutes much of the conservationists assertions.

“The perception that it is common practice to kill sharks for only their fins – and to cut them off whilst the sharks are still alive – is wrong”

This guy is whiter than white if he works for CITES right? Well no. Frank Pope of the Times (London) has highlighted that Dr Giam has links to the Marine Products Association of Hong Kong, an organisation of questionable ethics at best according to sharksavers, and that he is also on the board of Heng Long International, a crocodile skin trading outfit. Perhaps more like roadside slush than fresh fallen snow!

The point I am making is that when CITES is standing in the way of preservation there is still a long road to travel. This really is a war!

Why Sharks Are Not Protected

Why Sharks Are Not Protected was uploaded onto Vimeo by Gary Stokes of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and founder of Oceanic Love

Of course it’s a generalisation but one difficulty is that Chinese people seem to have such a lack of concern about the need for the preservation of the natural world. I am not saying that all Chinese share this disregard, indeed I have met many that are not so alligned. Neither are they the only culprits here, but the Chinese are by far the largest group of consumers. The remedy may simply be education and awareness, but the fact is that the Chinese have an insatiable demand for culinary delicacies and a worldwide industry is more than happy to disregard the concerns of the alarmists in order to provide for this appetite. With increasing wealth in the middle class across mainland China more and more people can afford to consume Shark Fin Soup; the dangers then are obvious. In a survey conducted by Wildaid and the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association in 2006 it showed that more than 35% of people answering the survey had consumed the soup in the previous year. Simply put there are more people that have money to spend in Chinese society and the demand is soaring.

The countries consuming the fish are one thing, but those that are supplying it are often ruthless in their efforts to resist measures against the trade. Western authorities are keen to focus attention on Asian, and Central American nations as the principle perpetrators of the supply chain but a third of all fins imported to Hong Kong come from Europe. Spain is by far the largest supplier, providing between 2,000 and 5,000 metric tons a year. Hong Kong handles at least 50% and possibly up to 80% of the world trade in shark fin, with the major suppliers being Europe, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen, India, Japan, and Mexico.

Costa Rica has been a notorious centre for fining. One person who has come face to face with the ruthless nature of the Costa Rican mafia is Paul Watson a Canadian animal rights and environmental activist, who you may recognise as a co-founder of Greenpeace and founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Pamela Anderson for Sea Shepherd

In July of 2012, after a near 50 day detainment in Germany, Paul Watson did a runner whilst on a bail of $300 thousand. To have maintained the terms of the bail would have meant to be deported to Costa Rica. The Costa Rican authorities want him to face charges for an incident that happened in 2002, or at least to answer questions related to the incident. The Guardian’s Shiv Malik says that the crew of an illegal shark-finning vessel, claimed that they were encountered by Watson’s vessel which was used to attempt to ram them, and for which Watson was charged by Costa Rican authorities with attempted murder. Video evidence thereafter forced prosecutors to drop the case. However lately in October last year a new man appointed to the case re-initiated the charges. Paul Watson is still classed as a fugitive and  probably plans to stay at sea to avoid arrest.

Are there glimmers? well lets hope.

According to Wildaid on October 10, 2012, the government of Costa Rica declared “zero tolerance to shark finning”.The President, Laura Chinchilla, signed an executive order with a group of environmentalists present to observe the proceedings. Costa Rica under the new regulations will ban all imports of shark fins into the country adding to existing regulations banning finning within the nations territory or waters.

Seashepherd is not so sure

“If Costa Rica is really serious about saving sharks, the government should ban all shipments from Nicaragua, step up enforcement, demonstrate some real conservation efforts at Cocos Island: tally up some real arrests and seizures; and they should drop the ridiculous charges against Captain Paul Watson.”

As already mentioned another nation highly active in the supply chain is Japan. In 2011 Japan were ranked ninth among those nations over exploiting this resource. Ironically and not through want of energy spent in the attempt or demand abating, the harvest has been declining, because of course stocks are becoming exhausted. In Japan it is required that sharks be landed with their fins attached; I am not sure to what degree this would make continuing the slaughter economically less attractive and lay the foundation for recovery of populations, without which I don’t see the purpose, other than it inhibiting senseless waste or providing for a more humane harvest.  But how well policed these regulations are is a matter for concern and  PangeaSeed may be the only voice in the wind in Japan helping to raise awareness of the need to protect sharks. PangeaSeed certainly would say that they have evidence showing that the regulations are not inhibiting the practice.

They have also said most recently that according to new research conducted by the oceanic fisheries programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) — a regional intergovernmental body, that bans on finning were not helping to reduce the numbers being killed, “likely due to a combination of poor enforcement and increasing markets for shark meat,” said the statement.

No Fin No Future

In the series – Shark Fin Soup Anyone?

Part 1 – Bowls of Blood

Part 2 – How great the threat?

Part 3 – Change – How long the path?

Part 4 – Coming soon.

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