Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Australia must lead way against shark fin trade

Conservationists are calling on Australia to take a stand to protect several shark species threatened by the multi-million dollar shark fin trade to Asia, especially China. Humane Society International Australia's program director Alexia Wellbelove says shark and ray populations are in trouble and international trade is a key driver in their decline as sharks are being taken at an unsustainable rate, primarily for their fins for shark fin soup. The CITES meeting will decide whether international conservation efforts will be used to restrict the trade in several shark species now seen as vulnerable.

Proposals at the meeting include protection for the Porbeagle shark, Oceanic White Tip, the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark and the giant mantra ray, now targeted for their gill plates or rakers, used in traditional Chinese medicine. Between 1.3 million to 2.7 million hammerhead sharks die each year to meet the demand for shark fin soup, with declines in shark populations reported by up to 80 per cent.

"One of the main threats really to sharks is to trade in their products, particularly for the Asian market, not so much Thailand but China (and) Taiwan," Ms Wellbelove told AAP.

The fins from between 200,000 to 1.2 million Oceanic White Tip sharks are harvested annually, at a price of around $US122 per kilogram on markets in Asia.

It has left this shark population dropping by more than 90 per cent in parts of the Atlantic. Just two shark species, the Great White Shark and the Whale Shark are listed for protection under the UN convention. The Porbeagle shark is found in the Northern Atlantic and southern hemisphere, including waters off Australia and New Zealand.

"Basically it does mean that we're in a situation where we can get some regulation on that now we can stop those populations from dropping too much further, controlling it before it's too late," she said.

Australia is sponsoring the call for a ban on the trade in the Freshwater Sawfish now largely extinct in the region apart from northern Australia. Conservationists have already lobbied Australia's three main political parties ahead of the September general election to adopt measures by the US state of Hawaii which ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fin.

Rebecca Regenry, a deputy director at the US based Human Society International, says moves to control the trade in shark fins is facing resistance from China and Japan. Ms Regenry said documents indicated Thailand, the meetings host, was also opposed to controls.

But Secretary General of CITES, John Scanlon, said divisions were apparent within states to provide greater protection for shark species.

"There are some parties who are very keen to bring sharks, commercially harvested sharks and rays, under the control of our convention," Mr Scanlon told AAP.

"(But) there are some states who remain of the view that these issues should be left to regional fisheries management organisations such as the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) and not bring it user CITES," he said.

Source: The Australian

Image courtesy of Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch