Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Shark Fin Trade: Facts, Speculation or BS?

I'm confused.

The HK Shark fin industry is whining.
Apparently, Shark fin imports to HK are down by 20-30% following the airline and shipping line fin bans, the graft crackdown and the success of the various anti-fin initiatives by the Shark activists.

At the same time, Peter Knights is shouting victory, to wit
“People said it was impossible to change China, but the evidence we are now getting says consumption of shark fin soup in China is down by 50 to 70 percent in the last two years,” said Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, a San Francisco-based group that has promoted awareness about the shark trade. The drop is also reflected in government and industry statistics.

“It is a myth that people in Asia don’t care about wildlife,” Knights said. “Consumption is based on ignorance rather than malice. ”
But then, I read this
Recently, we have been hearing persistent claims of declining shark fin imports into Hong Kong. But many of the reports - both in local and international media - have been guilty of peddling misinformation, which has created confusion around the real issue.

Claims from the shark fin industry of a drop in imports of some 30 per cent - and even one report of 70 per cent - are exaggerated. Data from the Census and Statistics Department clearly indicates a 19.8 per cent drop in imports from 2011 to 2012. What's more, for the 15 years up to and including 2011, shark fin imports have remained relatively constant at about 10,000 tonnes a year, albeit with some fluctuations.

That contrasts significantly with the figure of 1,162 tonnes recently reported for 2012. The exaggerated drop in the 2012 figure, which was widely reported, is probably a result of the fact that the codes under which shark fin products are reported were revised in the 2012 government data.

A large quantity of fins were recorded against a previously rarely used code and omitted from the total figure reported.

The decline also started well before major airlines, led by Cathay Pacific last December, took the bold and much welcome step of banning the carriage of shark fin. About 15 per cent of all shark fin is imported into Hong Kong by air; the majority still comes by sea.

Yet, despite the 2012 decline, Hong Kong has retained its leading and historic position representing about 50 per cent of the global total, indicating that the drop is likely to be global in nature. The good news could be that demand and consumption are falling - which has also been widely reported. The bad news could be that there are simply fewer sharks in the oceans, a very real possibility according to scientists. Or, it could be a combination of both.

Whichever way, until we see a significant downward trend that can be attributed to reduced consumption, there is much reason for concern. Overfishing is driving many shark species towards extinction and by the time we see such a trend emerge, it will probably be too late to do anything about it.
I would have to agree with Sophie.
The decline is quite possibly due to reductions at both ends, the demand side but also the supply side - the latter due to depleted Shark stocks but also, hopefully, to better Shark protection and management measures in the countries they are being sourced from.

But is it really so?
With Shark fins originating from a supply limited fishery - is the drop in demand already sufficient to have an effect on the trade? 
If so, then the inevitable consequence would be that prices must have dropped when compared to the prices of the same fins (in kind, quality and size) of the same species that were being quoted, say, last year. If so, then the reduction in demand but also the crackdown on corruption and the slower economy are having an effect.
If prices have however remained the same or even risen, then the advocacy is not (yet) having any effect on the trade (and thus the fishing), and the self congratulatory victory laps may be a tad premature.

Do we have that information?


Unknown said...

I believe the real source of decline in demand for shark fin soup is due to Chinese new president cracking down on corruption by government officials. Government officials apparently gorged in shark fin soup, (as many other luxury goods). When government is not paying for luxury goods anymore than, demand for luxury goods (including shark fins soup) declines dramatically. Great effort by all (NGOs, Airlines, etc), but my real appreciation (ironically) goes to the new Chinese government.

DaShark said...

Jero - what would YOU know about corrupt government officials? :)

My thoughts exactly - but I fear that we'll never really know: not the real extent of the drop in demand, nor what is ultimately driving it.

In the end the question is,
Is the demand already so low that less Sharks are being killed as a consequence.

That's the only metric that counts - and so far, we don't appear to know the answer.

Or does anybody? :)