Sunday, February 15, 2015

Shark Fin and Sea Cucumber Trade - epic Paper!

Totally unsustainable marine products - proudly brought to you by the Heep Tung Hong Group!

Wow - busted again!
And by the same person!

But first.
Download the PdF in this temporary link before it goes back down - chop chop!
And then read it - and keep the PdF handy!

So there we have it.
After years of outright speculation, conflicting reports and breathy propaganda by both the Shark fin industry and conservation circles, Shelley Clarke has once again reached past all the bullshit, rummaged though the piles of data hoarded in Hong Kong and is finally presenting us with real, scientific and unbiased evidence.
In her own words, the situation boils down to this.
  • Shark fin capture production has peaked, sea cucumber production is increasing.
  • Sourcing networks for both products are dynamic and resilient to changing conditions.
  • Conservation attention and regulatory environment differ between taxa.
  • Conservation and anti-corruption campaigns may have dampened shark fin trade.
  • Better tracking of traded quantities is necessary for management and conservation.
This is really as good as it gets.
On top of the above, it contains a wealth of other details and really is a must-read and must-keep - so if you haven't already, do download and do read it, the more as this time, I'm certainly not gonna paraphrase anything!

Anyway, I say bravo and thank you!
I really got the feeling that for the very first time, we are finally being shown the entire, highly nuanced picture, and this without any self serving agendas. And no I'm not gonna dwell on the bullshitters - you all know all-to-well who has asserted what and can certainly draw your own conclusions!

My personal take-away?
  • Yes there have been reductions both in the trade and the consumption of Shark fins in Hong Kong and possibly also China, and this owing to a variety of factors among which the recent conservation successes but quite possibly also the fact that Shark populations continue to get depleted at unsustainable rates.
    In fact, anecdotal evidence from here in Fiji but also many other locations indicates that the price of Shark fins has fallen below a tipping point whereby it does not anymore make much commercial sense to target Sharks and then ship the fins to Asia - so bravo to the various anti-consumption advocates in Asia for a job well done!
  • But looking at the evidence, it appears equally clear that Shark fishing in general and the Shark fin trade in particular ain't gonna go away anytime soon - meaning that on top of the traditional conservation work, we must also advocate full sustainability = better fisheries management in terms of quotas, monitoring, enforcement and prosecution.
  • There, I strongly advocate to reverse the burden of proof for both the fishermen and the traders as it greatly helps enforcement - and I equally continue to advocate that exactly like we do for other Fishes from sustainably managed Salmon to pole-and-line-caught Skipjack to MSC-certified Lobsters from Mexico and Australia, we need to help develop a market for sustainably managed Shark (fins and meat and possibly even other products) as if it is successful, this will drive the industry towards sustainability.
    It's stuff I've advocated before, and you can re-read it e.g. here, with links.
But now to something I've so far totally neglected - my bad!
In order to achieve any meaningful results both in traditional conservation but also in fisheries management, we absolutely require better data!

Methinks those data already exist, namely with the fishermen but above all, with the comparatively few traders. 
The problem of course is that those folks continue to lie and obfuscate whenever they get a chance, meaning that most official statistics are way off due to underreporting and that only very rarely, people like Shelley get access to robust data sets and are able to report more accurately about what is really going on.
With that in mind, fisheries legislation especially at the level of licensing should include strong wording mandating detailed and meticulous reporting to the management authorities and stiff penalties for non-adherence. This must also include mandatory reporting of bycatch, including whether the animals were released alive or discarded dead.

And what about those sanctuaries? 
Yes despite of the continued sniping by some quarters, I remain convinced that they work in that they greatly reduce Shark mortality as targeted fishing and the trade are forbidden and poachers are increasingly being apprehended - but let's be clear that even with those measures in place, there's still a ton of Sharks being killed!
For one, some sanctuaries contain exemptions for subsistence fishing that is by no means irrelevant, the more as I cannot discern any bag limits that would at least somewhat contain the damage.
And then there's the mortality of all that bycatch, and of that exempted catch-and-release game fishing. Many, many Sharks die on those lines, purse seines and coastal gillnets; and even assuming  that the fishermen want to release them alive (and the majority of commercial fishermen do not as handling feisty Sharks on deck is dangerous), many die before they reach the vessel and whilst they are being handled, and many more die post release.
And as far as I know, the current sanctuary legislation contains no wording about the need to collect data on that mortality. This must change in line with the preceding paragraph about fisheries legislation, as this incidental mortality is certainly significant and needs to be known in order to ascertain the ultimate success of the sanctuary legislation but also, in order to enact better mitigation measures.

So there you have it.
At the risk of repeating myself, this is excellent and required reading.
And as an aside, it's also really interesting to find a comparison between the Shark fin trade and that for Sea Cucumbers. Like I said, here in Fiji and in the SoPac in general, the Sea Cucumber traders have diversified into Shark fins and are very much the driver of the current unsustainable slaughter of our coastal Sharks.

Well done!

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