Endangered species

European countries play major role in Asian shark fin trade, study reveals

Written by Oceanographic Staff

A new study released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), found the European Union plays a key role as a supplier and trader in the global shark fin trade which is driving many species towards extinction.

The report, called Supply and Demand: The EU’s role in the global shark trade, provides the first comprehensive picture of the EU’s role in the Asian shark fin trade. It analysed official raw customs data from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Singapore, Taiwan and China, covering both fin and meat import and export data compiled over an extensive period from 2003 to 2020. 

It revealed that EU member states were the source of 45% of shark fin-related products imported into Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and Taiwan province in 2020, while Spain is shown to be one of the top exporters for the global fin trade, with the major fin-trade hubs of Hong Kong SAR, Taiwan province and Singapore consistently receiving imports of fin products from the country. 

Italy, Spain and Greece were revealed to be the primary importers of shark meat from Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and Taiwan province (some of the key Asian markets for shark fin consumption), while the top exporting member states of shark fin to these trade hubs were Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France and Italy. 

A total of 188,368.3 metric tons of shark fin products were imported into Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and Taiwan province combined from 2003 to 2020, with the EU responsible for almost a third of this import, with their proportion of fin imports rising significantly from 2017 onwards before reaching 45% by 2020. 

While global shark fin exports to Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and Taiwan province have been declining, the EU’s exports have increased in proportion to the total. 

Report co-author Stan Shea, Marine Programme Director, BLOOM Association Hong Kong, said: “Global shark declines are driven by international demand for shark fins and meat, coupled with widespread lack of management for both the catch and trade of shark species. Although many place the burden of change on the consumptive countries, primarily in Asia, equally responsible for declines in shark populations are all countries with internationally operating fishing fleets and trade in shark products.” 

Shark populations continue to decline rapidly worldwide. Over 50% of shark species are threatened or near threatened with extinction, and pelagic sharks (species of sharks found on the high seas) have declined over 70% in only a 50-year period. A recent study found that shark populations were functionally extinct on 20% of reefs surveyed globally.  

Report co-author Barbara Slee, IFAW’s EU Manager, Marine Conservation, said: “Small or large, coastal or high seas, shark species are disappearing, with the piecemeal management efforts to date failing to stop their decline.” 

She added: “The EU, demonstrated by our report to be a key player in global shark markets, has an important responsibility to ensure the accuracy of trade records and the enactment of sustainability requirements of sharks in trade such as listing all species in trade on CITES Appendix II. Taking on such a leadership role would undoubtedly influence other players to do so as well – leading to a better, sustainable future for sharks.”  

When effective management is put in place, shark populations have been shown to recover and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) listings for shark species have led to global action at the international and national level to create management for species threatened by the international trade in shark products.  

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Photography courtesy of Pexels.

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