An open letter concerning the unsustainability of shark finning

As a conservation organisation, we would like to express our concern about the recent misinformation perpetuated in the national and international media asserting that the shark fin trade is sustainable. The reality is that this vast trade is largely unmanaged and unmonitored, and that the shark fin industry in Asia plays little to no role in fisheries management in the countries that are fishing sharks, including New Zealand. The slow growth and reproductive rates of sharks makes them extremely susceptible to overexploitation. Since only a small fraction of shark-fishing nations have any type of shark management plan in place, the assertion that the fin trade is sustainable is not based in fact.

Despite claims to the contrary by Fisheries Departments worldwide, there is a wealth of scientific evidence that populations of many shark species are in decline, with the shark fin trade being an important driver. There is a solid scientific consensus that many sharks and indeed other cartilaginous fishes, such as skates and rays, are in severe trouble, and there is emerging evidence that this could be causing wider disruptions in ocean ecosystems.

We, the undersigned believe, in the interests of both the global marine environment and the public that depends on healthy ocean ecosystems, that decision makers should be apprised of the full facts of the shark fin issue, most specifically that:

The shark fin trade, as it currently stands, is NOT sustainable. Peer-reviewed scientific research has shown that the fins of tens of millions of sharks passed through the shark fin trade in 2000. Since then there has been no accurate estimation of the trade volume and corresponding number of sharks killed, making it impossible for the industry to state that the trade is sustainable. Declines in shark populations have been reported from many locations worldwide, and many areas – like the Caribbean, for example – are heavily impacted. Individual populations, such as oceanic whitetip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and hammerheads in the Mediterranean, have experienced severe declines. These statistics are not mere speculation but are backed up by published analyses in academic journals.

Shark fins are by far the most valuable part of the shark, which encourages many fisheries to target them or retain them even when they are caught incidentally, rather than releasing them alive. The shark fin trade should therefore be viewed as a major driver of global shark fishing activities, which are often unmanaged and conducted in an unsustainable manner.

The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) does NOT adequately protect endangered shark species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 82 species of sharks on its Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Yet, CITES regulates trade of just three of these threatened shark species. Despite meeting the scientific criteria for listing, numerous shark species have been denied CITES protection because politics prevented them from receiving the two-thirds of the votes necessary for a CITES listing. A larger number of species are considered threatened and are therefore prohibited in particular countries or by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. CITES tends to lag behind domestic and regional management bodies because of the 2/3 majority requirement and should not therefore be used as the benchmark for whether a species is under threat.

In short, the overwhelming body of scientific data supports the urgent need to focus on adequate conservation and management strategies rather than maintaining unsustainable levels of fishing. Given that sharks play an important role in maintaining the delicate balance of the world’s marine ecosystems, and that many species of sharks are now threatened or near threatened with extinction, there is a rare opportunity to make a significant impact on an issue of global importance by helping to regulate the burgeoning international trade in shark fins.

Yours sincerely,

 
Dr. Gregor Cailllet
Director Emeritus, Pacific Shark Research Centre
Professor Emeritus, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
Moss Landing, California
USA
 
 
Dr. Jeffrey C. Carrier, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Biology –
Albion College
American Elasmobranch Society –
Past-President
Adjunct Research Scientist –
Mote Marine Laboratory
Albion, Michigan, USA
 
 
Dr. Demian D.F. Chapman
Assistant Professor,
School of Marine and Atmospheric Science,
Stony Brook University,
Stony Brook,
USA
 
 
Dr. William Cheung
Assistant Professor,
Fisheries Centre,
The University of British Columbia,
Canada
 
 
Dr. Philippe Cury
IRD Senior Scientist
Director Centre de Recherche Halieutique Méditerranéenne et Tropicale Sète,
France
 
 
Dr. Toby S. Daly-Engel
Assistant Professor of Marine Biology
University of West Florida
Pensacola, Florida, USA
 
 
Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Ph.D.
President, Tethys Research Institute
Milano, Italy
 
 
Dr. Michael L. Domeier
President Marine Conservation Science Institute,
2809 South Mission Road,
Suite G,
Fallbrook, CA 92028,
USA
 
 
E. Esat Atikkan, Ph.D.
NAUI 6274
Adj. Prof., Biology
Adj. Prof., Physical Education
Montgomery College
Rockville, Maryland, USA
 
 
Kevin Feldheim, Ph.D.
A. Watson Armour III Manager of the Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution
Field Museum of Natural History
Chicago, Illinois, USA
 
 
Francesco Ferretti, Ph.D.
Hopkins Marine Station
Stanford University
Pacific Grove, CA, USA
 
 
Dr. Andrew B. Gill
Senior Lecturer
Environmental Science and Technology Department
Cranfield University
Bedfordshire, United Kingdom
 
 
Eileen D. Grogan, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Research Associate: Carnegie Museum
The Academy of Natural Sciences
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
 
 
Dr. Samuel H. Gruber
Director, Bimini Biological Field Station, South Bimini, Bahamas,
Founder IUCN Shark Specialist Group,
Founder American Elasmobranch Society,
Professor Emeritus University of Miami,
USA
 
 
George J. Guillen, Ph.D.
Executive Director and Associate Professor Environmental Science and Biology
Environmental Institute of Houston
University of Houston Clear Lake
Houston, Texas, USA
 
 
Dr. Richard L. Haedrich
Professor emeritus, Memorial University,
St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador,
Canada
 
 
Dr. Neil Hammerschlag,
Research Assistant Professor,
Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy
Director, R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program
University of Miami, Florida,
USA
 
 
Dr. Michael Heithaus
Director, School of Environment, Arts and Society,
Florida International University,
Miami, Florida, USA
 
 
Dr. Mauricio Hoyos Padilla
Pelagios-Kakunjá A.C.
La Paz, B.C.S., México
 
 
Dr. Robert Hueter
Director, Center for Shark Research,
Associate Vice President for Research,
Directorate of Marine Biology and Conservation,
Mote Marine Laboratory,
Sarasota, Florida,
USA
 
 
Dr. Charlie Huveneers
Lecturer and Research Scientist
Flinders University / SARDI – Aquatic Sciences Adelaide,
South Australia, Australia
 
 
Dr. Salvador Jorgensen
Research scientist
Chief Scientist, White Shark Research Initiative
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey, California, USA
 
 
Dr. Stephen M Kajiura
Biological Sciences
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, FL, USA
 
 
Dr. Steven Kessel
Post-Doctoral Fellow,
Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research,
University of Windsor,
Windsor, Ontario,
Canada
 
 
Vivian Lam
IUCN Shark Specialist Group
Suite 300, 1630 Connecticut Avenue
Washington D.C. 20009
USA
 
 
Dr. Agnès Le Port
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
School of Biological Sciences
The University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand
 
 
Dr. Richard Lund,
Research Associate
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Saint Joseph’s University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
 
 
Dr. John W. Mandelman
Research Scientist
John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory
New England Aquarium
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
 
 
Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza
Postdoctoral Researcher,
Ocean Exploration and Deep-Sea Research,
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University,
5600 U.S. 1 North Fort Pierce, Florida 34946
USA
 
 
Dr. John E. McCosker
Chair of Aquatic Biology
California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco, California
USA
 
 
Dr. Henry F. Mollet,
Research Affiliate MLML
R&D Volunteer Husbandry Division
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Pacific Grove, California, USA
 
 
Dr, Elliott A. Norse
President,
Marine Conservation Institute,
2122 112th Avenue NE, Suite B-300,
Bellevue WA 98004
USA
 
 
Dr. Jill A. Olin
Post-Doctoral Fellow,
Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research
University of Windsor,
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
 
 
Dr. Daniel Pauly
Professor of Fisheries,
Fisheries Centre,
The University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada
 
 
Prof. Ellen K. Pikitch, Ph.D.,
Executive Director,
Institute for Ocean Conservation Science
School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5000
 
 
Dr. Yvonne Sadovy
Professor,
School of Biological Sciences,
University of Hong Kong,
Pok Fu Lam Road,
Hong Kong
 
 
Dr. Carl Safina,
Blue Ocean Institute
Cold Spring Harbor, New York,
USA
 
 
Dr. Bernard Séret
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)
Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle
Département Systématique et Evolution
C.P. n° 51
55 rue Buffon
75231 Paris cedex 05
France
 
 
Dr. John Stevens
Research Fellow
CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research
Hobart, Tasmania,
Australia
 
 
Dr. Tracey Sutton
Department of Fisheries Science
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
The College of William & Mary
Gloucester Point, VA 23062
USA
 
 
Dr. Boris Worm
Associate Professor,
Biology Department,
Dalhousie University,
Halifax, Nova Scotia,
Canada
 
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