Friday, September 12, 2014

Demonizing Asians (Again) For Depleting Sharks Numbers

They cleared all their forests years ago and 50 years later whack Asians for deforestation. They needed to promote their inferior cooking oils, hence did a prolonged propaganda against palm oil. Now the focus is on shark, or rather shark fins. I am OK going with or without that dish but lets get the facts cleared up. 

Western Hypocrisy In The Shark’s Fin Debate – Analysis


By KT Tan

Graham Land’s claim that “A UN-FAO commissioned report from last year estimated that the demand for shark fin soup in China, facilitated by a massive shark fishing industry in countries like Indonesia, was largely responsible for some 100 million shark deaths per year.” is a non sequitur, a logical fallacy in which the conclusion does not follow from the premises. ( ‘Are We Winning The War Against Shark Fin Soup?’, Eurasia Review, 22 August 2014.)

According to the FAO, Indonesia was ONLY one of the 26 countries that were responsible for 84 percent of the global shark catches in 2012. [1] Mainland China was not even on the list.

What Mr Land has conveniently ignored is that developed nations such as the United States, Spain, Japan, France, New Zealand, Portugal, Britain, Canada, and Australia were among the 26 nations cited by the FAO.[2] The FAO catch statistics showed that the above developed nations ranked as the top shark-fishing nations in the West, with a total catch of 190,842 tonnes in 2008.
The claim that “the demand for shark’s fin soup in China was largely responsible for some 100 million shark deaths per year” is baseless.

This is because the biggest consumer of shark’s fin soup, on a per capita basis, is not mainland China per se but Hong Kong, which is a Special Administrative Region of China.

Shark's fin soup
Shark’s fin soup

And since shark’s fin soup is inordinately expensive and served at important events such as weddings and banquets, unlike the inexpensive fish and chips meals, made from tens of millions of pounds of shark meat and eaten daily by the working classes in the West, the majority of ordinary folks in China do not have access to it.

And in case it escaped Mr Land’s attention, in October 2013 the Chinese Government removed shark’s fin soup off the menu in state banquets ‘as part of a sweeping government crackdown on excessive spending and extravagance’. [3]

As a result, shark’s fin soup consumption in mainland China fell by 70%. [4]
Dr Shelly Clarke, arguably the only marine scientist whose doctorate is on the topic, estimated that “as of 2000, the fins of 38 million sharks per year were being traded but that the number could range as low as 26 million or as high as 73 million”. [5]

But she warned that “In 2011, with many conservation organizations escalating their campaigns and rhetoric against the shark fin trade, there are few news articles, web sites or blogs that don’t mention the millions of sharks killed each year. But I almost never see any reference to the 38 million, which was after all, my best estimate”. [6]

She stressed that she frequently sees the “73 million” figure without any reference to that being her highest estimate and added that “almost as often I see “100 million,” an estimate that was published in Time magazine in 1997 but for which I can find no scientific basis.” [7]

“Even more troubling”, she added “some sources quote these figures as ‘the number of sharks killed for their fins’, or ‘the number of sharks finned’ (carcasses discarded at sea), or the ‘number of sharks finned alive’ every year.” [8]

She warned that “The truth is that no one knows how many sharks are killed for their fins, how many have their carcasses dumped at sea, or how many sharks are alive when finned. We simply don’t have that information, nor do we know whether these numbers have been sustained every year since 2000.” [9]

‘Exaggeration and hyperbole run the risk of undermining conservation campaigns’ and ‘selective and slanted use of information devalues and marginalizes researchers, who are working hard to impartially present the data’, she cautioned. [10]

The “Global catches,exploitation rates,and rebuilding options for sharks’ report by Boris Worm et al, [11] published in the journal ‘Marine Policy’ which Mr Land alluded to in a previous article started the report on a very pessimistic note, to wit :
“Adequate conservation and management of shark populations is becoming increasingly important on a global scale, especially because many species are exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Yet, reported catch statistics for sharks are incomplete, and mortality estimates have not been available for sharks as a group”.

If that was indeed the case then surely the report, that ‘a total annual mortality estimate of about 100 million sharks in 2000 and about 97 million sharks in 2010, with a total range of possible values between 63 and 273 million sharks per year” has no scientific basis. [12]

It was also not an FAO commissioned report but one that was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, with additional meeting support from the Pew Charitable Trust. [13]

Mr Land’s claim that “Rapid economic growth in countries like China and Vietnam has decimated the global populations of many species, threatening endangerment and even extinction,” is blindly clutching at straws.

The United Nations ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’ (Cites), whose members represent 180 governments, is the global watchdog regulating trade on endangered species. [14]

And Cites has not listed any shark species on the endangered list. Only 8 out of about 420 species of sharks are on the watchlist today, though they are not necessarily classified as endangered. [15]

Under the laws of the United States, Britain, Spain, Portugal, France, Japan, China, India, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, to name a few, no shark is listed on the endangered list.

Mr Land’s claim that “This is an industry in which sharks are caught and their dorsal fin is sliced off before they are unceremoniously dumped back in the water to die” is also baseless.

Pragmatism dictates that poor fishermen in the developing nations like Indonesia, which he cited, will never ever throw away a shark when it can be used to feed their local community.

Some fisheries from the developed nations, arguably, do throw overboard many dead or live sharks, accidentally caught, to save freezer space meant more valuable fish like the swordfish and giant bluefin tuna, the latter of which can fetch over US$50,000 each at the wholesale fish market in Tokyo.
The record price paid for a single 489 lb giant bluefin tuna was US$1.76 million in Tokyo in 2013. [16]

Mr Land’s assertion that since “the fins are what fetch the real money, the market makes it more profitable for this shockingly wasteful and cruel method as opposed to fishing for actual shark meat” is an empty rhetoric.

In Spain, the port of Vigo is one of the biggest and busiest fishing ports in the world and it is home to over 3,000 longline fishing vessels. In 2008, all species of unloaded fish, including sharks, reached 751,971 tonnes. They never throw away any shark overboard as there is a market for the whole fish. Finning is also banned by EU regulations. Shark meat, mainly from blue and mako sharks, make up the majority of the catch for sale to the south of Spain and for export to Greece, France, Croatia, Russia and Romania. All the fins, which form only 5% of the shark, are exported to Asia. The rest of the sharks (90%) are consumed in Europe.[17]

In case the nuance escapes Mr Land, one the biggest killers of sharks are the industrial-scale longline fisheries in the developed nations like the United States, Spain, Japan, France, New Zealand, Portugal, Britain, Canada, and Australia using up to 140km of longlines, deploying up to 10,000 hooks to target the more valuable swordfish and giant bluefin tuna but millions of sharks are killed as a by-catch.

Even if all the world stops eating shark’s fin soup from tomorrow onwards, millions of sharks will continue to be killed as a by-catch in longlines unless legislation or regulations are in hand to stop these wanton killings in the West.
There are over 420 species of sharks ranging in size from a foot to more than 50 feet, like the whale sharks. The claim that eating shark’s fin soup will somehow cause the 420 species to become extinct flies in the face of logic because only the fins of about 30 to 40 species of sharks are used in this traditional Asian cuisine.

And it is also reprehensible to imply that only Asians consume sharks. This is not true.
A catch of Spiny dogfish caught during a trawl survey off California. Photo credit John Wallace, NOAA/NMFS/NWFSC/FRAMD
A catch of Spiny dogfish caught during a trawl survey off California. Photo credit John Wallace, NOAA/NMFS/NWFSC/FRAMD

In the USA, 20 million pounds of just one species of sharks, the spiny dogfish, were consumed in 2011, marketed as “steakfish” or “grayfish”. That was a 33 percent spike over 2010, even after President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act into law that year. This is appalling as the female dogfish sharks have a long gestation period and only give birth to a few pups at a time.
In the EU, including the UK, another 44 million pounds of the spiny dogfish shark species were consumed in 2011, disguised as rock salmon [18] fish & chips meals in the UK, as “saumonette” in France, as “seeaal” or as “schillerlocken” in Germany and “palombo” in Italy. In Canada it is called something else.

Typical plate of Fish& Chips, which in Australia and New Zealand is commonly made from 'Flake', a generic term used for several species of small shark.
Typical plate of Fish & Chips, which in Australia and New Zealand is commonly made from ‘Flake’, a generic term used for several species of small shark.

In Australia and NZ more than 33.6 million lbs of shark meat called flakes (mostly gummy sharks) are made into fish & chip meals every year. [19]
Why are the wildlife activists not campaigning for the West to stop consuming fish & chips meals made from shark meat? Why the double standards?

Would Mr Land be more sanguine if fish & chips, made from shark meat, are served at Asian weddings and banquets in future, instead of shark’s fin soup?
If Western consumers can feast on 95% of the shark (the meat) why are they demonizing Asians for consuming the other 5% of the shark (the fins), which are unappreciated and discarded in the West anyway? Why the hypocrisy?
Is this a new form of Cultural Imperialism, dictating what Asians should or should not eat? Trying to stop a traditional culinary practice in Asia, especially when sharks are not an endangered species, is culturally insensitive and is bound to fail.

It is like asking the Japanese to give up their tuna sashimi, the French their frogs’ legs, Western socialites their caviar canapes or the Englishmen and the Australians their fish and chips meals, again made from tens of millions of pounds of meat from sharks like the porbeagle, the spiny dogfish in the UK and gummy sharks in Australia.

The efforts by wildlife activists and NGOs to save sharks are commendable, but sadly, millions of sharks will continue to be caught as a by-catch in longlines and killed by the industrial-scale fisheries in the West.
Excoriating Asia will not lower the deadly by-catch; only legislation or regulation will.

KT Tan is a private researcher in the maritime disputes in the South China Sea and a regular reader of Eurasia Review. He is based in Singapore. Email :

1 ‘State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture’ 2014, Box 7, p.143
2 Ibid
3 In Oct 2013, China removed shark’s fin soup off the menu
in state banquets.
4 Shark’s fin soup consumption in mainland China fell by 70%
5 Dr Shelly Clarke’s website.
6 Ibid
7 Ibid
8 Ibid
9 Ibid
10 Ibid
11 Global catches,exploitation rates,and rebuilding options for sharks’, Boris Worm et al.
12 Ibid, Abstract.
13 Ibid, p.202.
14 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
16 A 489 lb giant bluefin tuna sold for US$1.76 million in Tokyo in 2013.
17 The Untold Truth :
18 Spiny dogfish sharks marketed in the UK as rock salmons in fish & chips meals.
19 Two Sides to a Fin :

1 comment:

CK said...

There is another unknown issue with the depletion of the world's fishing stocks.

This is directed to those blur beer drinkers, in general.

Not many of u realise that yr favorite clear beer that u've gulped down has a fishy ingredient - isinglass!

Isinglass is a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. It is a form of collagen used mainly for the clarification or fining of wine and beer.

Undisclosed by the fishing industries, all over the world, many fish stocks went extinct just bcoz of the increasing beer consumption of the world.

It's also one of the reason why yr grandmother's favorite ye piu suddenly worths many time over now!

Just use yr brain to calculate how many swim bladder a fish has & for that matter, only mature fish, not fry, has marketable swim bladder.

Coupled that with the volume of beers consumed daily, yearly at any occasions, one can easily see how many matured fishes, of any species, have to be caught & processed (die) in order to meet the requirement of the swim bladder used in beer refineries all over the world.

In fact, there r fishing boats, run by huge corporation, just netting the fishes for their swim bladders & the meat is discharged back to the sea, not unlike the shark fin industry!

This is a seldom exposal that not many western presses like to headlined, never mind about the blur-blur Eastern beer drinkers, who dont care what's in the beer, as long as it's a beer.

So, next time when u criticize a shark fin eater &/or gulping down yr favour beer, U R NO BETTER!

However, the Japanese marine scientist has managed to extract a replacement compound from the sea weed, that has the similar collagen effect as the swim bladder. But it usage is been handicapped by the drinkers' taste!