Monday, June 03, 2013

The Shark Tourism Paper - not impressed!

So what about that Shark tourism paper.

Have you read it?
Please do (click on study) - but anyway, it claims the following.
  • Based on the landed value of Sharks, global Shark fishing is worth USD 630m, and the value is declining because less Sharks are being landed due to the fact that stocks are being overfished.
  • Global Shark tourism is worth USD 324m and projected to grow to USD 780m within the next 20 years, this without factoring in the establishment of new Shark diving sites and ventures
  • Tourism Sharks are worth multiple times the value of fished Sharks
  • For this reason, we should protect Sharks, especially the coastal species
I got to be careful here as I'm both a Shark diving operator and a Shark conservationist whose causes the paper is clearly aiming to bolster.

That in itself is laudable.
I fully support statements like e.g. a) Shark diving tourism is a valuable segment of ecotourism, b) it is beneficial to Shark conservation (and vice versa) and c)  Sharks are worth more alive than dead, for which they ought to be protected.

And still, I'm irritated.
Where I'm coming from is that I applaud every pro-Shark paper as it lends credibility to our cause, especially against the arguments of the pro-fishing side that are often completely unsubstantiated all the way to disinformation and brazen lies.
BUT, in order for that of be useful, the science needs to be rigorous lest we be exposed of resorting to the very same subterfuges of which we accuse the other side! In the present case, I've read and re-read the paper and alas, I continue to be unimpressed.

But let me elaborate.

1. The (landed) value of Global Shark fishing is USD 630m, and declining

I notice that the authors used FAO statistics and the Clarke paper where contrary to what Pew and others have been doing for years, they argue with the 38m number.
They also apply a price of USD 0.75 kg−1 for landed Sharks.

Now to be perfectly fair.
The paper was accepted in mid-November 2012 and it appears that the authors were not being informed (Pew???) about the Worm paper that was being withheld in view of its rolling out at the CITES CoP.
Taking the 97m number and the average weight of a caught Shark of 20kg from that same paper, plus the above per kilo value, the landed value of global Shark fishing would already be USD 1.45 billion!

But is the value of USD 0.75 kg−1  even plausible?
First, using a landed price to the fisherman is misleading.
Even wanting to reflect the in-country value as opposed to the true commercial value of fished Sharks (i.e. the price to the end consumer), the correct applicable price would have to be the export price, and this is why.

Taking the example of Fiji and probably many other countries,.
The fishermen sell the fins to intermediaries who in turn sell to fin traders who aggregate the fins and sell them to their counterparts in Asia. The meat of the coastal Sharks and a portion (= those who have not been finned) of the oceanic Sharks is sold on Fish markets and fish-and-chip shops. Barring tax evasion etc, that money would remain in country and thus be the better comparison to the domestic Shark tourism industry.

I'm not convinced that simply leaving out one aspect of the economic reality (= the price to the end consumer) is useful, the more as the Shark diving valuations use precisely that metric, and this sometimes even including the prices paid to airlines and hotels where the money may have remained abroad.
May we be comparing apples with oranges here?

But be it as it may, here are the numbers from Fiji
The official price paid by the intermediaries to the fishermen is FJD 180 per kilo (= roughly 100 bucks), although they will try and cheat and pay as low as FJD 20. But going upwards in that supply chain, there is no more cheating and one would have to argue for it to be a business, the export price would have to be at least USD 150 per kilo - and this globally as those fin traders everywhere most certainly know the global commodity value of the fins they trade!
The typical price for the meat is FJD 5 per kilo.

So where does that put us in terms of numbers.
An "average" Shark weighing 20 kg yields 5% in fins = 1 kg.
Taking the example of Fiji, let's assume that the sellable meat is half of the body weight = 10kg yielding FJD 50 = USD 30. Add the USD 150 for the one kilo of fins and you get a value of USD 180/Shark, or USD 9 per kilo. With Fiji declaring a yearly export of 130 mt of fins (of a total 164 mt for Sharks), the value of that fin trade alone would have to be a whopping FJD 19.5m = USD 10 million - and incidentally, I'm rather unimpressed that the researchers haven't bothered to do a bit of fact finding and math, and then added a plausible assumption for the value of those Sharks from Fiji in their Table 1!

If the above is a correct, those 97m fished Sharks would be worth a staggering USD 17.5 billion (!!!) in country, and substantially more to the end consumer!
But even if Fiji is not a good indicator for the global trade as some remote exporters may be selling fins at below their global commodity price, and because not all the fins of those 97m Sharks are being traded, etc etc, the USD 630m number is just simply totally misleading, partly because the key data are outdated, partly because of lazy research and partly because of implausible assumptions.
Not good!

And, are Shark fishing and as a consequence, its value declining?
Yes to the former. Worms et al. postulate a past decline of approx. 3% in the last 10 years.

But what about the commercial value.
Based on the FAOs statistics, Fig 3, the authors postulate a decline in the value of Shark fishing - but frankly, this just flies on the face of everything we see on the ground!
The bulk of the value are the Shark fins, and those are a luxury good - and luxury goods get more expensive as they get rarer! E.g. in the nineties, the price for one kilo of wild-caught Iranian Oscetra was approx 1,000 bucks - and now it is 4-6 times that, and more than likely farmed!
That's certainly the trend we see for Shark fins traded here in Fiji - and it got nothing to do with inflation! With one caveat: as the killing continues, the more valuable species and the bigger individuals get depleted first, leading to a shift to less valuable species and smaller fins, leading to a decline of value per catch unit.

Long story short?
As everybody knows, the FAO statistics are just simply bad data as they are afflicted by notorious under- and non-reporting due to IUU - so why base a brand-new paper on those highly questionable data instead of engaging in some simple due diligence instead!
Not impressed!

2. Global Shark tourism is worth USD 324m and projected to grow to USD 780m within the next 20 years

So what about those USD 324m?
I got no means of fine checking all of the data - tho postulating that Fiji's Shark tourism is worth 223k (Table 1) and the whole of Melanesia, 29.9m (Table 2) in the face of the real, peer-reviewed numbers of USD 42.2m for Fiji alone is once again an indicator for sloppy research - as is the number for the Bahamas, see Catlin et al!
Philippines only 226k from Malapasqua and all of those Whale Shark tours? Egypt with literally hundreds of thousands of divers and dozens of Shark viewing sites only 139k? Zero for the GNS dives in NSW, Fig.1?
But Spain a whopping 24 million - seriously????

To me, that's just not good enough.
Far from being a fair representation of the global Shark diving industry, this looks like a haphazard  accumulation of valuations from random places, i.e. where valuations could be obtained from. Apart from the obvious mistakes, this has resulted in glaring geographical omissions. Furthermore, the various valuations have been obtained using vastly diverging methodologies and also scientific rigor, something that is neither explained, nor suitably addressed in the paper.
The figures are thus not at all credible - not in their sum that depending on methodology is likely a gross underestimation, and even less in their relative value both nationally and regionally.
Not impressed!

And what about the growth rates?
First, are they based on no new sites being established as per we did not factor in the addition of new shark watching sites and thus our projection is conservative - or does that include new sites as per visitor numbers should increase further as new sites become established?

But regardless of the above.
Yes Sharks are ubiquitous and in theory, one could go watch them anywhere.
In reality, however, the good "natural" Shark watching sites have all but been discovered and are already being operated at or above capacity, see the examples from the Whale Shark watching industry etc. Or, do we really want to slap more operators, boats and tourists onto those sites in Holbox, Malapasqua, Cocos, Wolf and Darwin, Rangiroa, Palau etc etc?
Plus, let's not forget that Sharks are in decline, as e.g. witnessed by the demise of the San Diego Blue and Mako Shark watching ventures. Even in protected places like Cocos, numbers have declined from tens of thousands which I have seen with my own eyes to only a few hundred.
Welcome to those ever shifting baselines!

And with a very few exceptions, the downward trend is far from being broken!
In fact, it could be argued that with everything we're throwing at the oceans from having overfished their prey (also see Mark Nadon's comment) to having degraded their habitat, chances for them to rebound in any substantial way will be forever limited by the reduced carrying capacity of their habitats!

Leaves those dreaded baited Shark dives.
There, too, numbers are at capacity, to the point that there is even talk of limitation of operator licenses like in South Africa and the Galapagos, or reduction like in S. Australia.
Plus, there is the anti-feeding lobby that is attacking us wherever they can, see once again e.g. South Africa and the USA, and this despite of an increasing body of evidence describing that those operations are not harmful - and incidentally, no thanks for the oblique reference to Aleks' paper that is both unnecessary and also misleading as that paper postulates no adverse effects!
Seriously, it would really be helpful if at least the researchers would stop their unsubstantiated sniping!

What I'm trying to say is that with a few exceptions, establishing new baited Shark dives is going to be difficult if not impossible, and that the existing baited dives are at risk.
And, most of them are also operating at, and in the case of multi-user sites like Lupe, Tiger Beach or Aliwal Shoal maybe already even over capacity - and we've all seen the consequences of that competitive pressure and the resulting inevitable accidents!
Yes you night divers and Shark riding bimbos, and the stupid operators enabling that shit, I'm talking to you - conservation my ass!

Leaves revenue growth via price increases, and there 7.5% p.a. on top of inflation looks ambitious, especially considering the fluctuations in the economy!

Long story short, I'm not convinced.
Some of the data are wrong, some implausible, and the research appears lazy.
Plus, the authors have simply no clue about the realities of what it takes to establish a successful Shark tourism venture - very much a case of sutor ne supra crepidas!

And even if those postulated growth rates were realistic, I would surmise that they would be matched and likely possibly even surpassed by the value of the fishing.

Plus, read the following!

3. The value of a tourism Shark is multiples of the value of a fished Shark.

Could not agree more - but caveat Catlin et al!!
But does that mean that Shark tourism is a valid alternative to Shark fishing?
Kudos to the authors for having elegantly skirted this thorny issue as the answer is unequivocally, no it is not, at least not in the vast majority of cases!

Granted there are some examples to the contrary.
Whale Shark watching is one industry where fishermen have been able to transition to ecotourism - but in the vast majority of cases, both ventures have existed in parallel.
Even our much acclaimed famous Fiji Shark Project is not leading to the establishment of alternative sustainable livelihoods as we do compensate the fishermen for not fishing in the SRMR but do not prevent them from fishing in the remainder of their fishing grounds where they now catch more Fish owing to spillover effects - as it should be!

Or take some other examples.
Joe is hopefully making tons of money by taking people to watch those Blues and Makos off Rhode Island, and Epic Diving is monetizing OWTs off Cat Island. But those two operations are among only a handful (the Azores and drift dives in SA come to mind) of such operations that have braved the logistical challenges of showcasing oceanic Sharks and made it a success - and this only seasonally as oceanic Sharks are highly migratory!

Obviously this cannot be replicated everywhere.
The logistical issues are daunting, the profits far from being assured, the animals are in decline and seasonal. Clearly, this is in no way a model for eventually supplanting the global commercial fishing of Blues and OWTs!

And, many fished Sharks are not being exploited touristically!
Think about those Spiny and smooth Dogfishes, or the Gummy and School Sharks, even the Porbeagles and Salmon Sharks - there are no operators showcasing them, and likely never will be!

4. We should protect the Sharks for the sake of the Shark diving industry

Yes, agree, at least in part!
Take those two above-mentioned tourism ventures: they may be a good reason for protecting Sharks in the Azores and despite of them being already protected in the Bahamas, for trying to limit even catch-and-release game fishing for those OWTs around Cat!

And incidentally.
When will somebody finally turn Tiger Beach into an MPA - only once some game fisher has managed to accidentally kill Emma??? How much more of an eminently valuable, spatially limited and iconic place can one possibly ask for?

Like always, all is location- and species-specific.
Places like Palau and the Bahamas where a very large portion of the tourism dollars are being raked in by the diving industry have every interest in protecting their Shark diving industry.
Large, rare and iconic species like, say, GWS and Whale Sharks (and Mantas!), possibly even Basking Sharks, are certainly worth more to tourism than to the fishing industry, and this quite possibly when viewed globally and in their totality!
But most other places and species are much more complex.

Take for instance Fiji.
I was dismayed to see a Fisheries official state on a recent local TV program that the fishing for coastal Sharks was irrelevant, the more as the Sharks were merely bycatch. The contrary is true - there is an upsurge in targeted coastal Shark fishing that is depleting the tourism areas, and nobody seems to know, let alone care!
For us and despite of the solid protection of our region by our Fiji Shark Corridor, this is of grave concern as it certainly impacts our Bulls where we have lost track of several individuals and especially, the much more migratory Tigers.

But you've also seen the above numbers for Fiji.
Getting 180 dollars per kilo of Shark fins is a huge windfall for those local fishermen, and hoping to convince them to abstain merely based on education and awareness is frankly unrealistic - very much evidenced in the Mamanucas where Shark fishing remains rampant despite of the valiant efforts by the MES! It is totally unsustainable and will likely peter out as those local Sharks will be shortly all gone - but the grave consequences for the marine environment will remain for many years to come, and this very much to the detriment of the tourism industry there but also of those local fishermen!

In fact, that, and not tourism ought to be the driver for Shark conservation!
Shark tourism will always remain a niche product - but somebody ought to finally quantify the ecological services of Sharks, and the real economic consequences of their demise! And then compile an analysis of the total local/regional value of those Sharks that would obviously also include the tourism numbers!
Not easy but also not impossible - and talk about creating a powerful argument for Shark conservation!

But I'm digressing as always - solutions?
Of course the solution can only be proper legislation flanked by proper enforcement and prosecution, and in the case of Fiji and many other island states that simply lack the resources for implementing differentiated NPoAS, those Sanctuaries remain the most practicable tool, at least in the shorter run.
Later, however, one will have to transition towards sustainable management coupled with smart enforcement - especially in view of the challenges of current population trends.
Let's not forget that sustainable fishing, if implemented correctly (!), harms neither those Shark stocks nor their habitat - nor the Shark tourism industry!

And incidentally.
No, Taiwan and Mexico are nowhere near establishing Sanctuaries or anything similar - as a minimum, you really got to read the papers you cite!
Once again, not impressed!

5. Long story short?

I so wish this paper were better!
I'm also quite baffled at both the failure of the peer reviewers, but also at the fact that despite of the fact that it is only being rolled out now, i.e. well after the Worm numbers, nobody found it fit to at least make those obvious corrections? And what happened to the oversight of Pew and their notorious pico-management of the projects they finance?

Right now, we simply cannot use it.
Like I said, the data are obsolete, there are lazy mistakes and the conclusion that Shark tourism could become more valuable than Shark fishing (whatever this juxtaposition may signify) is highly questionable. We'd be the laughing stock of the fishing industry who could easily rip apart our arguments, which is nowhere near where we want to position ourselves!

But of course some of the key statements stand.
Shark tourism, if conducted responsibly (!) is a highly valuable segment of ecotourism; and Sharks need to be protected!

So here's my wish.
Could this paper not be re-published taking into account the latest data, and with corrections to at least the most egregious mistakes?
If so, it could indeed become a valuable conservation tool!

And if not... :)

PS: Nani's comments here - kudos! :)

No comments: