The United Nations Food and Agriculture organization just released fisheries and agriculture technical paper number 590, “the state of the global market for shark products.” Coauthored by legendary shark conservation researcher Shelley Clarke, this 196 page document is a comprehensive look at, um, the state of the global market for shark products.
It includes an updated review of threats to sharks and the conservation and management mechanisms that governments are used to protect them. If you’re interested in shark conservation, you should read it. If you’re interested in shark conservation but don’t want to read a 196 page technical document, I’ve selected 28 important quotes, facts, and graphs from the report. These are organized into the following four categories (categories which can be used as a TL;DR summary of the entire report):
A) The global trade in shark meat is growing and is significantly different from the fin trade (despite not getting anywhere near the same attention from conservation activists and the media as the fin trade).
B) Many, many countries other than China are involved in the global trade in shark and ray products (despite not getting anywhere near the same attention from conservation activists and the media as China).
C) Many species and populations of skates, rays, and smaller sharks are highly traded (despite not getting anywhere near the same attention from conservation activists and the media as larger, charismatic species).
D) Global trade is complex, and we need a lot more data from governments of shark fishing and trading nations to effectively track trends in shark product use (i.e. science and record-keeping are critical for conservation, and not all important conservation work is glamorous or exciting).
The global trade in shark meat is growing and is significantly different from the fin trade
1) An overview of global trade in shark fins and other shark products:
2) “At the international level, the markets for meat and fins are largely distinct from each other; the world’s major shark producers generally export both commodity types, but there is much less overlap between importers…The vast majority of shark fins are destined for consumption in a relatively small selection of countries and territories in East and Southeast Asia such as China, Hong Kong SAR, Taiwan Province of China, Singapore, Malaysia and Viet Nam. However, the world’s largest consumers of shark meat are found in South America and Europe”
3) “A combination of demand growth and antifinning regulations intended to encourage the full utilization of carcasses has seen the market for shark meat expand considerably…Fishers seeing sharks increasingly as commercial species to be actively targeted, rather than bycatch species landed unintentionally while targeting more-valuable species such as tuna or swordfish.”
4) “global trade data show the trade in shark meat expanding steadily over the last decade or so…an increase of 42 percent by volume compared with 2000…”annual average figures for shark meat were 107,145 tonnes imported, worth $239.9 million…Trade in shark meat shows a different pattern of steady growth at 4.5 percent per year (2000–2011)… ” Global trade in shark fins appears to have decreased slightly since the early 2000’s…the average declared value of total world shark fin imports at $377.9 million per year from 2000 to 2011, with an average annual volume imported of 16,815 tonnes”
5) “Large producers such as Spain and Taiwan Province of China, in addition to their roles as suppliers to the shark fin markets, now also export large volumes of shark meat ”
6) “Markets for shark meat are much more diverse and geographically dispersed than those for shark fins…European and North American markets such as the United States of America, Italy and France seem to have a preference for dogfish species…Demand in South and Central American and Asian markets, in contrast, appears to be mainly for larger species”
7) “underlying demand for [shark meat] products is increasing. Thus, there are likely to be areas where demand for shark meat is sufficiently high such that, even if demand for shark fins declines, existing fishing pressure will not”
8) “Hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and blue sharks are preferred for shark fin soup whereas dogfish, mako and tope sharks are preferred for meat”
9) Global trade in shark meat:
10) Leading exporters of shark meat:
12) Total global fisheries capture of sharks, skates and rays:
13) “in 2003… chondrichthyan capture production reached its maximum level (about 896 000 tonnes)…subsequently levelled out at quantities 17–18 percent lower (2008–2011). ”
14) “Other products such as shark liver oil and shark skin are also traded, but these quantities are minimal by comparison…Cartilage production was only reported from Canada, China, Japan, South Africa, the Sudan and the United States of America but is believed to be considerably more widespread… India noted that exports of squalene from deep-sea shark livers were twice as valuable as exports of shark meat ”
Many, many countries other than China are involved in the global trade in shark and ray products
15) “Shark products will pass through multiple countries as they move along regional trading routes… the supply chains conveying shark fins from fishing vessel to consumer are complex and global in nature, incorporating multiple transshipment stages through different customs territories. In a typical case, the shark fin may be produced (separated from the carcass upon capture or landing) in one country, exported to a regional trader, re-exported to a processing centre, processed and re-exported once again to the consuming country”
16) “The world’s major shark fin exporting producers are Spain, Indonesia, Taiwan Province of China, and Japan.”
17) “Thailand has surpassed Hong Kong as the world’s largest [shark fin] exporter ”
18) “The United States of America is an important producer of sharks, a relatively large exporter and a minor importer of shark fins… a significant decline in the volume of shark fins exports since 2003…The United States of America is a major producer and exporter of shark meat… imports by the United States of America are relatively low, the gap between its capture production and export quantities is high (i.e. at least several thousand tonnes), suggesting that a significant amount of chondrichthyan meat is domestically consumed…The European Union (Member Organization) is the most important single market for shark meat exports from the United States of America, with France and Germany the top two destinations.”
19) “reported shark fin imports by the United States of America rose from 20–30 tonnes in 2007–09, to 34 tonnes in 2010, 58 tonnes in 2011, 44 tonnes in 2012, and 54 tonnes for January–November 2013….This trend of increasing quantity of imports occurred despite the adoption of bans on trade and possession by several states and territories during this same period.”
20) “”Singapore is…the world’s second-largest importer and exporter [of shark fins] in value terms…trade in shark fins through Singapore has been increasing…Indonesia is a major producer and exporter of shark fins…the world’s top shark producer…Spain is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of shark fins, with effectively no domestic market of its own…capture statistics show a strong upward trend in recent years…The United Arab Emirates is a major exporter and regional trader of shark fins, with a minimal domestic market and low shark captures…Costa Rica is an important exporter of shark fins and a key trading post for shark fishing fleets in the region… Canada is the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia…India is one of the world’s largest shark producers and an important exporter of shark fins, with little or no market of its own…Spain is one of the world’s largest shark producers, and one of the world’s largest traders of shark meat….Brazil has rapidly grown into one of the world’s main markets for shark meat… in 2009 Uruguay was the world’s top importer of shark meat in volume terms…Mexico is a major producer of sharks and an important market for shark meat…New Zealand is a major producer of both oceanic and bottom-dwelling shark species, and an important exporter of high-valued shark meat…France is a major consumer market for shark meat supplied by imports in addition to domestic capture volumes…The Republic of Korea is the world’s top market for skate and ray meat.”
21) “As well as being one of the largest consumer markets for shark fins, Hong Kong has historically been the most important trader of shark fins in the world…Hong Kong is not a producer, and essentially the entirety of its outgoing trade consists of shark fins that have been imported from shark-catching countries or regional traders and then re-exported…procures almost all of its chondrichthyan products from imports. In 2011, it reported less than 400 tonnes per year of shark, ray and skate capture production as compared with more than 10,000 tonnes of imported shark fins.”
22) “China is historically the world’s foremost consumer market for shark fins and is also a major producer, processing centre and re-exporter…It is the world’s second-largest importer by quantity and third-largest by value…China’s imports and exports of shark fins have declined dramatically since the early 2000s.”
Many species and populations of skates, rays, and smaller sharks are highly traded
23) “Foremost among these unanalysed products is skate and ray meat of particular importance because these fishes have comprised more than half of the taxonomically differentiated chondrichthyan landings for many years… the presence of rays in the fin trade is often overlooked.”
24) “rays account for five of the seven most threatened chondrichthyan taxa (sawfishes, wedgefishes, sleeper rays, stingrays and guitarfishes)”
25) “75 percent of [United States shark fisheries] capture production consisted of skates and rays, 16 percent were dogfish species and the remainder were coastal and oceanic sharks.”
Global trade is complex, and we need a lot more data from governments of shark fishing and trading nations to effectively track trends in shark product use
26) ” The species of shark being traded is only rarely identified in trade records for shark meat and never for shark fins…This information is crucially important for those concerned with the environmental effects of the exertion of market forces on shark populations.”
27) “A single landed shark recorded in the capture production database may be double-counted in the trade databases as an import and a re-import (or an export and a re-export) as well as in processed and unprocessed forms”
28) ” Separate [World Customs Organization] commodity codes should be implemented for unprocessed dried, processed dried, unprocessed frozen and processed frozen shark fins as a matter of urgency in order to continue meaningful trade monitoring”