Shark Fin Traders Re-Routing to Vietnam
The shark fin trade in East Asia changes rapidly depending on where and how profits can be made, highlighting the needs for better traceability and a global overview of the markets according to a new study by the NGO TRAFFIC.
The study finds the trade in shark and ray products is highly dynamic. For example, the re-exportation of shark fins from Hong Kong, which handles up to 40 percent of the global trade, has changed markedly in recent years. The volume heading to mainland China, traditionally the biggest importer, significantly dropped in 2010, but was offset after Vietnam became the largest importer of shark fins from Hong Kong in 2010, 2013 and 2014.
According to the study, Vietnam may only be acting as a transit point for the re-routing of shark fins to other consumer markets, further adding to the complex situation.
Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan have had a long and varied history in the trade of shark fins. Together they account for more than 90 percent and 70 percent of the global import and (re)export, respectively, between 2005 and 2011, based on FAO import data. As one of the top five shark catchers globally, 70 percent of Taiwan’s shark fin export was to Hong Kong between 2005 and 2014.
“Shifting trade routes in recent years means it’s no longer safe to conclude that a decrease in imports in mainland China, for example, equates to a drop in the overall global shark fin and meat trade,” said Joyce Wu, a Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC and an author of the new study. “You need to see the bigger picture to appreciate fully what’s actually going on.”
The trade complexities are further compounded by inconsistent data recording systems, which mean regulating the shark fin trade in the region is severely hampered, a situation compounded by an untraceable market supply making it impossible to demonstrate whether fins originate from sustainable sources and have been legally harvested.
Furthermore, shopkeepers in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan did not know the shark species of 85 percent of the shark fins categories they offered for sale.
The current overfishing of sharks is largely driven by the global trade for their highly-valued products, including fins, meat, leather, liver oil and cartilage; and in the case of manta/devil rays, gill plates. Shark fin is in high demand as a traditional delicacy while ray gill plates are used as a medicinal tonic.
Last month in South Africa the Silky Shark, three thresher sharks and nine devil rays were included alongside the five commercially fished shark and two manta ray species already listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The listing affords the species protection though introducing permitting requirements to ensure trade is carried out at sustainable levels. Government representatives at CITES also endorsed plans to develop traceability systems and training to improve implementation of the existing sharks and ray listings.
In July, China’s COSCO Shipping Corporation has announced that it will ban all shark fin shipments, joining a growing number of transport and logistics companies standing up against a trade that kills millions of sharks annually.
COSCO Shipping’s commitment follows concerns raised by WildAid and other wildlife conservation groups after Hong Kong Customs officials seized nearly one ton of fins from endangered hammerhead sharks, found inside a COSCO shipping container on board a COSCO vessel earlier that month.
The commitments of 17 container shipping lines and 34 airlines have intensified scrutiny of American multinational courier FedEx, which has yet to commit to a No Shark Fin carriage policy despite intense pressure. UPS, FedEx’s chief industry rival, banned shark fin shipments nearly a year ago.
Most shark fins are of a similar size, color and shape, and to the untrained eye, many shark fins from both legal and protected species look very similar, if not identical. As such, visual species identification conducted by staff at FedEx's thousands of stations around the world cannot alone be relied upon to accurately differentiate them, says WildAid. The only way to accurately determine the species of a shark fin is through time-consuming and expensive DNA analysis — clearly an impractical solution. Therefore, multi billion-dollar industry leaders including UPS, COSCO and American Airlines have all clarified their cargo policies to prohibit shipments.