Australia’s shark fin trade
10th November, 2012 By Australian Marine Conservation Society
1. Shark fin is traditionally used in shark fin soup, and served at formal occasions in Chinese culture to symbolise both the wealth of the host and respect for their guests.
2. The international trade in shark fin is widely agreed to be driving the collapse of global shark populations. A third of all open-ocean sharks are listed as threatened with extinction on the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List. Scientists estimate that around 73 million sharks are killed annually to supply the shark fin trade1. The increase in an affluent Chinese middle class is driving an annual 5% increase in the trade in shark fin2.
3. A single shark fin can sell for over $1,000 in Sydney or Melbourne’s Chinatown. Prices can reach up to $700 per kg of dried, skinless fin, whereas shark meat is generally much lower value – selling for as little as $0.80 per kg.
4. Live shark finning (the practice of cutting the fins off a live shark and dumping the body) is banned in all fishing jurisdictions in Australia (Commonwealth, States and the Northern Territory), thanks in part to AMCS campaigns. NT was the last place in Australia that allowed live shark fining at sea, which ceased in 2004 with the introduction of new legislation.
5. Australia has about seven targeted shark fisheries, and sharks are caught incidentally in around 70 fisheries as bycatch (ie where sharks are not the target species, but caught in process of fishing for other species). Endangered sharks are regularly caught. For example, scalloped hammerhead sharks (Endangered on the IUCN Red List) are caught within the QLD-managed East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery, and as many as 600 shortfin mako(Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List) sharks are killed in the Commonwealth-managed Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery every three months3.
1Clarke SC, McAllister MK, Milner-Gulland EJ, Kirkwood, GP, Michielsens CGJ, Agnew DJ, Pikitch EK, Nakano H and Shivji MS (2006). Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets. Ecology Letters, 9: 1115–1126
2 Clarke, S. 2004. Understanding pressures on fishery resources through trade statistics: a pilot study of four products in the Chinese dried seafood market. Fish and Fisheries, 5(1): 53-74.
3 Report for 1st October – 31st December 2011: http://www.afma.gov.au/managing-our-fisheries/environment-and-sustainability/Protected-Species/
1. The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) recently obtained a breakdown of shark product exported from Australia in the financial year of July 2011-June 2012.
2. The data indicates that Australia exported 178 tonnes of shark fin in the 2011-12 financial year to Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore. There is no information denoting which shark species the fins come from. 178 tonnes of dried shark fin is the amount of fin derived from approximately 13,300 tonnes of shark carcass4. Australia reports that Australian fisheries currently land an average of 8,390 tonnes of shark and ray per calendar year to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. This leaves the source of around 5,000 tonnes of shark catch unaccounted for.
3. The data was obtained under a Freedom Of Information request by AMCS asking for all exported product that was recorded under trade codes specific to shark products – this includes shark fin, shark liver oil, trunk pieces, shark liver oil, squalene and dried shark cartilage powder. AMCS sought this data in order to assess and publically scrutinize the extent of Australia’s current export trade in shark products.
4. This data is not publicly available. The reason provided by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) is that there is no confidence that the shark product export data recorded in their Export Documentation System (EXDOC) stands up to public scrutiny. AMCS was informed that some export data is not entered into an electronic database, but is instead recorded in hard copy. No single data source that accounts for both electronic and hard copy export data exists; the reported shark fin export statistics obtained by AMCS are derived from the electronic system only. Although efforts have been made by conservation organisations over preceding years to secure improvements to the data collection system, DAFF is yet to make significant advances.
5. It is also not possible to access a meaningful time series of export trade data prior to June 2012, which means there is no way of assessing whether Australia’s export trade is increasing or decreasing. This is because the trade data is archived at low resolution. Every day, trade data from individual trade codes is rolled into the sum total of all shark product exported.
6. As the export data is low resolution, it is difficult to monitor compliance with Australian shark finning legislation. It is also difficult to assess if the amount of exported shark product tallies with the amount of shark product that
4 This figure comes from shark fin to whole carcass weights reported in published scientific work. The dry weight ratio used is 0.73% for dry fin weight to whole carcass, and for wet fin the figure is 1.62%. The ratios were derived from the following reference:
Salini, J, McAuley, R, Blaber, SJM, Buckworth, R, Chidlow, J, Gribble, N, Ovenden, J, Peverell, S, Pillans, R, Stevens, JD, Stobutzki, IC, Tarca, C and Walker, T (2007) Northern Australian sharks and rays : the sustainability of target and bycatch species, phase 2. FRDC Project no. 2002/064. FRDC Project ; no. 2002/064. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research. 1921061243.
Australia annually reports to the UN FAO. Trade data is considered one of the key assessment methods for ensuring illegal take of sharks does not occur, but with such poor data collection, the current system in Australia is clearly failing.
7. There have been several recorded instances where live shark fining has occurred in recent years. In August 2012 an adult female grey nurse shark was found still alive but with its fins sliced off on a beach near Evan’s Head, NSW. A decaying finless shark has also been found within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. See:
1. Prior to the beginning of 2012, there was no specific ‘shark fin’ trade code for imported produce. There were two trade codes, which were listed as:
• Dogfish & other sharks (excl. fish fillets, other fish meat of HS 0304, livers & roes) fresh or chilled
• Dogfish & other sharks (excl. fish fillets, other fish meat of HS 0304, livers & roes) frozen
All imported produce was recorded under these two codes. This is clearly inadequate for capturing data on the importation of dried shark fin. At the beginning of 2012, new trade codes for imported shark fin were introduced and AMCS intends to access the data in early 2013 to provide the first reports of imported shark fin to Australia.
2. Since 2000, Australia reported imports of shark product from a number of countries including: Fiji, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Argentina, Peru, the Philippines, Taiwan, Uruguay, United States of America and New Zealand. It is highly likely Australia is importing shark products, including shark fin, from countries with poorer shark fisheries management practises than our own. For example, some countries exporting shark fin to Australia, e.g. India and Indonesia, still allow the cruel and wasteful practice of live shark finning at sea.