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More adventurous than the average bear

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Friday, February 17, 2012

No sense in shark's fin ban: Marine life experts

"You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six." - Yogi Berra


ST: "No sense in shark's fin ban: Marine life experts
They argue dish doesn't increase global killing of shark significantly

It may be politically incorrect, but three marine life experts said at a forum on Thursday that it makes no sense to ban the sale of shark's fin.

But a fourth expert stood his ground, insisting a temporary ban on shark's fin and meat would reduce the killing.

A debate over this controversial topic played out at a forum organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, attended by about 100 people.

In one corner were Dr Giam Choo Hoo, a member of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites); Professor Steve Oakley, Shark Savers Malaysia chairman; and Mr Hank Jenkins, president of conservation outfit Species Management Specialists.

In another corner, supported by the majority of the audience, was Mr Louis Ng, executive director of Singapore animal advocacy group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

The topic has garnered recent interest here after a string of local supermarkets, such as Carrefour and FairPrice, and hotels like Shangri-La pledged to stop serving or selling the dish.

A global movement to outlaw the trade of shark's fin has also been gaining momentum as well as converts, who believe that the dish is inhumane and endangers the shark population.

But Dr Giam, Prof Oakley and Mr Jenkins all claim that prohibiting its trade will not dramatically reduce the number of sharks killed worldwide. They noted that many countries such as Germany, France, Australia and Iceland have long killed sharks for their meat.

'Even if shark's fin were banned, these countries would continue to catch sharks for the meat,' said Prof Oakley.

Dr Giam armed his presentation with figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation: In 2009, 70 per cent of caught sharks were by fishermen in developing countries. 'From my own research, fishermen in these countries are mostly poor and will eat every part of the shark,' said the former deputy director at the Primary Production Department, the predecessor of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

But Mr Ng countered that these fishermen could be better supported through eco-tourism, where divers pay to swim with the sharks. In the Bahamas, such trips are worth US$78 million (S$99 million) to its economy each year. This would also be more sustainable in the long run, he said.

Shark protectors claim the dish kills up to 73 million sharks each year, with some of them tossed back into the sea to die after their fins are cut off.

But Mr Jenkins took aim at the statistics and pooh-poohed this widely held belief. He said the 73 million figure, attributed to marine scientist Shelley Clarke and cited by shark advocacy groups such as WildAid and Shark Angels, had been twisted to suit their needs.

Dr Clarke herself took to marine sustainability website SeaWeb last year to lambast such misuse of her work. She said she had estimated in 2000 that the fins of 38 million sharks were being traded, although the true figure was likely between 26 million and 73 million.

The three panellists also insist there is no evidence that live finning - cutting sharks' fins off before throwing the sharks back into the sea - is a prevalent practice. 'Although practised by some fishermen, it is illegal, relatively infrequent and condemned by the industry,' said Mr Jenkins.

Mr Ng was not convinced. He cited 2008 data that showed that fins commonly sell for US$250 or more per pound (450g), far more than the measly dollars per pound for shark meat.

In an interview with reporters after the forum, he stuck to his guns: 'We're calling for a temporary ban. Let the shark populations recover, put in place proper management, and make sure that the trade is sustainable before we start consumption again.'

But all four panellists agreed that more information on the sharks' plight is needed. A 2010 report by non-profit group International Union for Conservation of Nature said there is not enough information on 47 per cent of shark and related species to know if they are endangered.

The panellists added that governments need to do more to regulate the trade of sharks. Prof Oakley said this could involve making sure fisheries keep the number of sharks above a mandated minimum level. Sharks could then reproduce at a sustainable rate.

As for Singapore, Mr Jenkins said it could source its fins from sustainable producers. Last year, the Republic imported about 3,500 tonnes of shark's fin, 40 per cent more than the previous year.

The AVA said Singapore abides by the Cites agreement, under which the basking shark, whale shark, great white shark and sawfishes are protected species and their trade is strictly regulated. It allows only licensed fish dealers to import sharks and shark's fin.

Ms Joan Paul, 22, a student who attended the forum, said she will still boycott shark's fin. 'By choosing not to eat shark's fin, you are thinking in the long term. When there's supply for shark's fin, there's bound to be demand,' she said."

Summary Graphic:

Yahoo News:

"“The truth is, 80 per cent of sharks are caught accidentally, so whether or not you eat shark’s fin is inconsequential — the sharks will still be caught”...

Shark industry expert and consultant Hank Jenkins followed up on Giam’s argument with at least five instances from campaigns by WildAid and Shark Angels, among others, where scientific findings were manipulated or plucked from the air by seemingly “malicious” international animal rights activist organisations.

He also highlighted instances where pictures were either taken and described out of context, or even artificially manipulated, in the case of an image of a finless hammerhead shark vertically suspended underwater, from a campaign led by WildAid...

Oakley raised some examples of sustainable fishing in countries such as the U.S., which include the establishment of commercial quotas (for the total number of sharks that can be caught for sale and trade of their parts), as well as imposing time and area closures, so that fishing boats spend fewer hours catching sharks...

Oakley recommended that one thing Singapore’s government agencies such as the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority can implement is nation-to-nation trade contracts that require countries trading in shark’s fins with Singapore to have certifiably sustainable fisheries...

Singapore is the world’s second-largest trading country for sharks"

Someone: hahaha before ACRES spoke
they cleared up allegations of "black market" for fins
because its not an illegal trade, there is no need for black market and underground trade

then ACRES actually had slides with black market trade
they didn't spend nary a second on it

Addendum: Shark Savers disputes the reporting of this seminar, but I am not convinced by most of their points, especially since they huffily proclaim that "In contrast, the two presentations by Shark Savers and ACRES were fact-based, avoided rhetoric, sensation, exaggeration, distortion, or emotional arguments"
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