Assistant Professor Dr. Demian Chapman of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences went to Recife, Brazil to teach a workshop organized by the Humane Society International on international regulations on the shark fin trade.
Last December in Thailand, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora granted several restrictions to protect certain species of sharks from trade because the species were beginning to be threatened, but the restrictions only came into effect this past September.
The protections impact 180 countries. The countries must regulate trade across their borders and will not be able to sell the sharks’ meat or fins unless there is a permit confirming the sharks were harvested legally and sustainably, this can only be circumvented if the countries have received permission otherwise.
Chapman gave a group of environmental, enforcement and fisheries authorities hints on what to look for in shark fins. For example, no protected sharks have black coloring on their fins. Hammerheads, for example, which are protected, have very tall and skinny light brown fins.
“These countries need to know what the fins of the restricted species look like so they can stop them from crossing the border,” Chapman said. “It is important to teach them how to identify the different types of shark fins.”
The Humane Society International will host various other workshops around the world to help make the new regulations more effective. Countries include Brazil, Senegal, India, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and possibly Colombia this month.
These regulations will protect five shark species: the Oceanic Whitetip, the Porbeagle and three types of Hammerhead.
Fins are the most valuable part of the shark. The demand in Hong Kong and China is particularly high, due to the consumption of shark fin soup. The gills are also used in some Chinese medicine.
Chapman has helped develop a web-based guide to assist enforcement personnel from all over the world in identifying the different types of shark fins, www.sharkfinid.org. His research also developed DNA tests to identify the species-of-origin of shark body parts in trade and can even tell the species that are present in shark fin soup.
“Regulating international trade in these shark and manta ray species is critical to their survival and is a very tangible way of helping to protect the biodiversity of our oceans,” CITES Secretary General John Scanlon in a press release, said.
“The practical implementation of these listings will involve issues such as determining sustainable export levels, verifying legality, and identifying the fins, gills and meat that are in trade,” Scanlon added.
“I have been researching sharks for 15 years,” Chapman said. “I have been studying various aspects of shark conservation, learning how to use biology to protect sharks.”
Greenpeace estimated 100 million shark deaths per year, with 100 million dying in 2000 and 97 million dying in 2010. These numbers are based of fishing statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
CITES has a 40-year history of trying to protect these species. Denmark (speaking for Greenland), Canada, Guyana, Japan, Iceland and Yemen did not agree with the new rules and are not bound by them, but they cannot trade with the 180 countries that are prohibited from the trade.
There have been several efforts in the past to decrease the shark trade, including campaigns to raise awareness. Hilton Worldwide responded by removing all shark fin dishes from its menu in its 96 Asia-Pacific locations.
If enforced, these regulations are expected to protect these five species from becoming endangered.