(DOHA)—Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) failed to list the Oceanic White Tip shark on Appendix II of the Treaty today. The demand for shark fin soup is driving this species and many others to extinction.
“The total volume of shark fins in international trade is staggering,” said Linda Paul, Director of International Programs for Earthtrust, a member of the Species Survival Network. “Last year nearly 14,000 metric tons of fins worth more than US$308 million were internationally traded.”
The large and highly-valued fins of the Oceanic White Tip are among the most sought-after by Hong Kong fin traders and, as a result, the species has become a target of both legal and illegal fishing. However, it is just one of dozens of shark species that are being depleted because of the growing demand for fins.
Per unit weight, fins are the most valuable shark product. Up to 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins only. After the fins have been cut off, the bodies of most sharks are thrown back into the sea where they die. The meat of only a few species is retained for food.
Pacific islanders find this practice particularly offensive. “The cultural importance of sharks to the indigenous Pacific island peoples and the deeply-rooted social value of full utilization of any fish catch are completely out of step with the current global practice of cutting off a shark’s fins and throwing the rest away.” said Keone Nunez, a native Hawaiian cultural practitioner. “There was an understanding that nothing should be wasted.”
In 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in which it urged States to ban directed shark fisheries conducted solely for the purpose of harvesting shark fins. In 2007 the UNGA adopted additional language that that urged parties to consider taking other measures such as requiring that all sharks be landed with each fin naturally attached.
Palau and the United States proposed the Oceanic Whitetip shark for listing on Appendix II, along with the endangered Scalloped Hammerhead shark and its look-alike cousins, because the fin trade is decimating these species. An Appendix II listing would regulate, but not ban the trade in the fins of these species. In the future, the parties to CITES need to condemn the appalling waste associated with killing sharks for their fins only or there will many more shark species proposed for listing on CITES appendices.