Archives For Fish

We know that our oceans play a critical role in assuring human wellbeing, providing food, livelihoods and recreation as well as helping to regulate global climates.

We also know that our oceans are in trouble, with many marine species headed for extinction. Ocean acidification, rising sea temperatures, rising sea levels, hypoxia, overuse of marine resources and pollution rank among the greatest challenges. All of these are well-discussed in a Stockholm Environment Institute study, Valuing the Ocean, which makes an important argument for valuing and protecting ocean services.

But how do we gauge the health of our oceans and marine resources – a daunting task given the many interlinked and complex benefits and threats?

Recently responding to this question, a broad group of marine conservationists and scientists released the Ocean Health Index,which is a sort of marine GDP, reflecting the health of our marine environments and how sustainably we are using them.

An account of the Index was published in the Aug. 30th issue of Nature.

The groundbreaking tool is not just a measure of how pristine the waters of any country might be, but rather considers how we humans benefit from our marine ecosystems and how our oceans are faring globally in terms of provision of services to us.

In search of baseline measures, scientists and marine experts calculated standards for the many ways we use the ocean. It comprises ten goals for a healthy human–ocean system in the waters of a country’s exclusive economic zone, which usually stretch 200 mile offshore.

The index now offers hard numbers to show how close or far each  coastal country is to balanced use of the Big Blue.

The country goals for a balanced marine environment include clean water, food provision, carbon capture, biodiversity, coastal protection, recreational opportunities, artisanal fisheries, support of local economies, and a “sense of place.”

Globally, the overall index score was 60 out of 100, with developed countries largely performing better than developing countries. Only 5% of countries scored higher than 70, while 32% scored lower than 50.

Rather predictably, while northern European countries tended to score highly, much of  West Africa, for example, did not score so well.

Researchers hope the Ocean Health Index will build awareness of the state of the world’s ocean, and work as a catalyst and guide for business and government decision-makers to develop effective policies promoting ocean health.

Researchers intend to release an updated version annually that responds to  new data that will overtime refine the index.

The Ocean Health Index was developed with the contributions of more than 65 ocean experts including the National Center for Ecological Analysis and the Synthesis and the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project. Founding partners are Conservation International, The National Geographic Society and The New England Aquarium.

Reprinted from the South China Morning News, January 16, opinion written by Sophie Le Clue, ADMCF’s director of environmental programs:

In one sense, 2011 was a good year for sharks. The movement in Asia against consuming shark fin gained momentum against a
backdrop of new legislation to ban the trade in California as well as several Canadian cities. In a domino effect, shark sanctuaries were declared worldwide, covering thousands of square kilometers.

In China, the business community also rallied against shark fin. To date, 142 business leaders including chairmen and chief
executives of leading companies such as Lenovo, Haier and China Merchants Bank pledged not to eat it, while hotels and clubs have committed to not serving the infamous soup.

On the government side, in 2011 45 members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference signed the “Motion on
Development of Regulations on Prohibiting Shark Fin Trade”. Some members of the National People’s Congress also signed the
motion, which will be considered by the government later this year.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Group’s surprising and insightful move to ban the product across all outlets, including its famed Peninsula hotels, was perhaps a fitting end to the year.

Despite these moves, there is a long way to go. There are enormous challenges to implementing regulatory controls and many shark populations globally remain endangered, some threatened with extinction in the near future.

As a result, eyes are now firmly on Hong Kong, the centre of the global shark fin trade and itself a driving force in declining shark
populations.Yet it seems resolute in enabling such ecologically important endangered species to be traded with little regulatory control.

Approximately 10,000 tonnes of shark fin from millions of sharks are imported into Hong Kong every year with virtually no regulation as to species. According to some estimates, this equates to around half of the global trade.

To provide context: of the 507 shark species, only 256 have been assessed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to determine their conservation status and of these, 56 per cent, or 143 species, have been identified as threatened with extinction, either now or in the near future. Many of these species are freely traded in Hong Kong.

Last year, questions by legislators on the topic of shark fin met with the standard response: that the government adheres strictly to Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) requirements.

Quite why this prevents the government from regulating trade in endangered species not under Cites remains to be seen.
The paradox, however, is startling. Cites was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at an IUCN meeting and came into force as an international agreement in 1975.

By placing trade restrictions on species at risk, it aims to ensure that the international trade in wild animals and plants does not
threaten their survival. Yet it only includes three species of shark, despite valiant efforts to introduce several others in 2010,
when countries with vested interests in the trade, such as Japan, reportedly bargained with fellow signatories to ensure that highly lucrative shark species – albeit critically endangered – were not included in the convention’s regulatory appendices.

Science and sustainability, the cornerstone of conservation, clearly gave way to commercial interests. For sharks at least, Cites is failing. So when an administration such as Hong Kong hides behind its Cites’ commitment in response to questions about the shark trade, despite the convention’s obvious failings, we know we are in troubled waters.

We can only hope that the next chief executive will have more foresight. Hong Kong remains a gateway to the shark fin trade in
Asia; with a little vision it could make eating shark fin history and have a major impact on an issue of global significance.

Yesterday the Shangri-La  took the courageous step of declaring that effective immediately, the group’s 72 hotels and resorts would no longer serve shark fin in any restaurants or at wedding banquets.

The announcement falls under the company’s new sustainable seafood policy, which also includes a decision to phase-out Bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass in all hotel restaurants within the year.

In a press release, the hotel said that in December 2010 the company initiated the process of becoming shark fin free with the removal of shark fin products from its restaurant menus. “The new policy is a continuation of Shangri-La’s journey towards environmental support,” the release said

This follows the Peninsula Hotel’s decision in November last year to stop serving the soup in its restaurants and at wedding banquets as of January 1st this year.

The hotels should be applauded for their actions, which were not easy in a city that sees 50 percent of the global shark fin trade and where consumption of the soup at special events has been second-nature. Here, shark fin soup is seen as a symbol of wealth and  prestige and consumed most often at weddings and corporate banquets.

Yet as the consumption of the soup has increased in recent years with greater affluence in Asia, shark populations have dwindled.  In some species. populations have declined by as much as 90 percent. As many as 73 million sharks are caught annually, with millions of these believed caught for their fins alone.

Shark flesh is not a  high-value meat, while dried fins can be sold for as much as $300 a pound. A bowl of the soup in Hong Kong can fetch as much as $100. Thus is some cases, shark are finned at sea  with the bodies thrown back to drown in a practice that is both wasteful and cruel.

Bloom, the HK Shark Foundation, WWF and other conservation groups have been working hard in Hong Kong over the past few years to educate consumers and the trade about the ramifications of declining shark populations for our oceans.

The work has included research to understand both the cultural attitudes toward consumption of shark fin soup and the trade in shark products;  educating the hotels on biodiversity issues related to sharks and learning about the challenges of ceasing sales of shark products; encouraging consumers to consider shark fin free weddings; encouraging companies to sign a pledge not to serve shark fin soup at banquets.

Despite a swell action from local and national governments worldwide to ban consumption of shark fin products, the Hong Kong government (consistent with its course of rarely acting in public or conservation interest) has refused to consider any such action – even a ban on serving at official banquets.

In reality, the assumption is that because of the cost, little shark fin soup is actually served at official banquets in Hong Kong and indeed government officials have alluded to this.

Certainly, however, with the growing awareness around threats faced by our oceans, the sense of inevitability of action as shark populations decline, the government must now be feeling the heat.

Last week the HK Marine Products Association was certainly feeling the heat. The trade group placed half-page ads in leading Chinese publications titled (in English translation) “Is eating Shark Fin Guilty?” and arguing  that

  • Shark fin is simply a by-product of the shark fishing industry
  • CITES bans trade in only four species therefore fishing should be allowed in others
  • Any conservation of a species should be based on scientific evidence not emotion
  • States  the MPA uses resources sustainably and contributes to conservation

Clearly, shark fins, for reasons stated above are not by-products of any shark fishing industry and clearly conservation of a species should be based in scientific fact, which exists and is documented: sharks are in significant decline.We would welcome any communication from the MPA related to their sustainable practices and conservation work.

The CITES issue mentioned in the ads is an interesting one and is raised frequently by the MPA, as well as both the HK and Beijing governments, which hide behind the treaty. The main point here is that CITES is not effective in protecting shark species globally and should not be used, counter-intuitively, as a a justification to fish endangered

CITES was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at an IUCN (The World Conservation Union) meeting and entered into force in 1975 as an international agreement. Today, it has 175 signatories.

Its aim: to ensure that the international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The CITES mechanism to achieve this is by placing trade restrictions on species at risk. The Convention is, therefore, undoubtedly an important wildlife conservation agreement.

Yet CITES only includes three species of shark, despite that according to IUCN 143 species are threatened with extinction, either now or in the near future.

So why should a conservation agreement exclude threatened species? The answer lies in the fact that for a species to be bought under CITES trade restrictions, the signatories must vote.

In 2010, for example, six shark species were proposed for inclusion in CITES. Countries with vested interests in the shark trade, such as Japan, bargained with fellow signatories to ensure that highly lucrative species, albeit critically endangered, were not included in the Convention’s regulatory appendices. Science and sustainability clearly gave way to commercial interests.

In Hong Kong, CITES remains the only mechanism for regulating the shark fin trade and to make matters worse its implementation is unclear.

The Agricultural, Fishery and Conservation Department (AFCD) of the Hong Kong government is responsible for monitoring the trade in endangered plant and animal species.

Currently, visual identification is a commonly used to identify imported plants or animal species. While this may be appropriate for many species, it is extremely difficult, in practice, to determine the shark species from a fin without the carcass, and even more difficult if the fin has been bleached or processed. It is understood that AFCD do not carry out any DNA analysis.

Thus, CITES clearly is not an effective mechanism to monitor the shark fin trade in Hong Kong.

Scientific research based on DNA testing shows that in 2006 approximately 40% of the auctioned fin weight in the Hong Kong market came from 14 shark species listed on the IUCN Redlist of Threatened species.

So bravo to the Shangri-La and the Peninsula hotels for taking action, the 112 companies in Hong Kong that have signed the WWF pledge not to sell or buy shark fin as part of their corporate activities.

Going shark free is a groundswell here and abroad that we certainly hope will continue in time to save the apex predators and our oceans.

I’m still surprised when other conservation funders or even NGOs ask us why we work to protect sharks, indicating that this is a “single-species” issue among a platform of ADMCF initiatives that generally is much broader in tone.

I’m surprised when we have to point out that there are at least 440 species of sharks and that as apex predators they are critical to the health of our oceans. This is in no way a single-species issue and ultimately is integrally connected to the health of our commercial fisheries.

The initiatives against consumption of shark fin soup we support have much more to do with protecting our oceans, which are in significant decline. At least a third of shark species are threatened with extinction and some species have dropped in numbers by as much as 90 percent in recent years.

Sharks cannot easily recover from overfishing because they reproduce slowly, taking years to mature and producing few offspring. If we continue to fish shark at current rates, they simply won’t be part of our ocean life in the not too distant future, with potentially disastrous consequences for us all.

For 400 million years sharks (despite their negative image largely, thanks to Jaws) have helped to maintain and regulate the balance of our marine ecosystems. We don’t know exactly what our oceans would look like without sharks but we do know there would be significantly less biodiversity. Studies have shown that regions where there are more apex predators have more biodiversity, while areas without them show clear absences.

Still, every year perhaps as many as 73 millions sharks are caught – tens of millions of these for their fins alone. Although many sharks are landed and brought to shore with their fins attached, in order to save space on fishing boats, in many instances sharks are finned at sea and the body is discarded into the oceans, meaning the sharks drown. Any food value in the large body is wasted.

And Based on FAO statistics, global shark catches are likely to be underestimated by an astonishing three to four-fold.

Hong Kong plays an important role, with 50 percent of the shark fin trade passing through the city – much of it re-exported legally or illegally to China and the rest consumed locally, mostly at wedding or corporate banquets in soup.

Shark finning is an issue that ADMCF has been working with local conservation groups to highlight and advocate against in Hong Kong. Over the past five years we have supported  research, appeals to the hospitality industry and rest of the corporate sector  to stop serving and consuming shark fin soup.

With local organizations we have worked to build awareness among the general public about the biodiversity consequences of decimating our shark populations. Legislators have been approached to push the Hong Kong government to consider at least ceasing the consumption of shark fin soup at government banquets – something that in reality should be easy since the dish is expensive!

Ultimately, of course, we would all like the Hong Kong government to follow the world trend and consider a ban on the shark fin trade in Hong Kong.

Earlier this year, Bloom released important research on local attitudes to shark consumption that was publicized widely in local Chinese and international media. This research fundamentally changed the debate– from shark fin as an untouchable cultural issue to a global concern characterised by changing local attitudes.

And in an encouraging recent decision, the Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels announced a ban on shark fin at all outlets including its Peninsula hotels as of Jan. 1. This was a major shift and key step in engaging Hong Kong’s leading hotels on a collective ban. Conservation International and Bloom Hong Kong are organizing a meeting of top Hong Kong hotel executives in January  2012 to discuss what initial steps they might take toward removing shark fin from restaurant menus.

Meanwhile, WWF and the HK Shark Foundation have managed to sign up more than 110 companies and industry groups in Hong Kong to a pledge not to serve shark fin soup or consume other shark products in the course of official business. Many others have privately committed to follow the ban but have asked not to named publicly.

Indeed, the number of shark conservation organisations in Hong Kong pressuring the government, the corporate community and the trade is at an all-time high. Social and mainstream media shows that public sentiment is shifting and the momentum against consumption of shark fin is continuing to build both here and abroad.

Increasingly people do understand the importance of sharks to our marine ecosystems. There is little doubt in most minds that protecting sharks is not a single-species issues.


Today is World Ocean Day and marine conservation organization, Bloom, seized the opportunity to launch a playful new short film, “A Shark’s Fin.”

Half animation and half live-interview format, the film tries to lightheartedly illustrate the problem with eating shark fin soup and let people know just what that apparently simple act of consumption means for our oceans.

Made by Hong Kong writer director, Crystal Kwok, executive produced by Elaine Marden and featuring actor Michael Wong as well as two adorable Hong Kong primary school students, the film targets the younger audience, with the view that they will educate their parents.

Please share the film – the more views, the more education and hopefully fewer bowls of shark fin soup will be consumed.

Remember, 73 million sharks are killed each year, mostly to  satisfy demand for shark fin soup and 50 percent of the global trade passes through Hong Kong. We can take a stand: Honor our oceans by refusing to eat shark fin soup before we lose  the majestic predators to extinction.

 

Sunday's Freezemob in TST, Hong Kong

This blog was written by the director of ADMCF’s environment program, Sophie Le Clue

At the end of April, this blog highlighted research by HK Bloom Association into cultural attitudes to shark fin, which showed that Hong Kong is clearly ready for change when it comes to taking shark fin off food menus, despite the cultural sensitivity.  During May the research went on to receive global media coverage being reported from the New York Times to Louisiana’s Bayou Buzz in the US, to the Telegram in Australia and the Bangkok Post in Thailand (to name a few)– not to mention widespread coverage across blogs and websites.

In an even earlier blog we illustrated that momentum against sharkfin in HK was building , and what’s clear now is that these efforts are intensifying across the world.

Just last week:

  • Washington became the first State in the United States to prohibit the sale, purchase, trade, and preparation of shark fins.  Similar legislation which is generating much controversy also looks imminent in California and Oregon.
  • In Malaysia, the State Cabinet agreed with the Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun on the immediate need to include sharks in Sabah waters in the protected species list –it’s hoped this will be in force by year end.
  • Sabah’s top hotels are already preparing for this leading conservation move and last week were reported to already be taking shark fin off menus – Hong Kong please take note… particularly in light of the Ritz Carlton’s recent  announcement that its brand new Hong Kong hotel indeed intends to serve dish – suffice to say Hong Kong’s very active and effective shark conservation organisations (see previous blog – Hong Kong Campaign Against Shark Fin Soup gathers Strength ) are building momentum against this move by the Ritz.
  • There were rumblings that Canada is also gearing up to enter the discussion.  Brantford, a seemingly sleepy city in Ontario, will be debating this week on enacting a bylaw to prohibit the sale and consumption of all shark fin products (finning is already banned in Canada, but not the trade).
  • Back to the US and Chinese basket ball superstar Yao Ming flew to Shanghai to receive WildAid’s International Ambassador award, in recognition of his public stand against shark fin in China.

 All of these actions follow an unprecedented move in China, when in March, deputy to the National People’s Congress, Ding Liguo, proposed to ban the trade in shark fin – citing the unsustainability of the practice as well as its brutal nature. There are also indications that the public display of eating shark fin by China’s elites as a sign of wealth is beginning to irk those higher up.

And of course Hong Kongers also need a mention.  Just yesterday at precisely 12.45am an eerie silence pervaded the “Avenue of Stars’ (a popular tourist destination on the harbor front) as 350 odd people ‘froze’ for five minutes in protest against the shark fin trade and consumption.  This second ‘Freezemob’ organized by the Hong Kong Shark Foundation (HKSF) witnessed a near doubling of numbers from the first such event last year.

 As tourists meandered in and out of 350 frozen statues curiously eyeing a variety of shark paraphernalia, behind them hundreds of fishing trawlers silently sailed into the harbour in protest against Hong Kong’s landmark trawling ban announced last week – a curious juxtaposition.

Perhaps Hong Kong will get it right and lead the way after all.

Photo by Alex Hofford 

Recent research has shown that the vast majority of people surveyed in Hong Kong would be happy without consuming shark fin soup at a wedding, even though it has become the status symbol of choice for couples getting married here.

This shows attitudes toward the dish may finally be changing. Much of the debate around the consumption of shark fin has centered around cultural attitudes, with some in the trade trying to define the discussion as an East versus West issue when really it is simply a matter of protecting our already depleted oceans.

The reality is that tens of millions of sharks are killed each year to satisfy our appetite for the tasteless delicacy and as a consequence their populations worldwide are at high risk of extinction. Sharks are integral to the health of our oceans.

By contrast, consumption of the soup began with the Song dynasty (960-1279) when the expense meant this was the privilege only of the wealthy and this continued to be the case until the 1970s. Then, new wealth in Asia made shark fin accessible to more people and its consumption became associated with status – an important feature of any wedding and significant business banquet.  At the same time, more destructive fishing practices designed to dramatically escalate the catch helped make expanded consumption of shark fin possible.

Clearly, this is now a lucrative trade estimated at US$1 billion, with prices still high for the fins, which are often removed from the shark at sea. Frequently, the shark body, considered of lesser value, is thrown back into the sea where the shark is left to drown without its fins. An estimated 50 percent of the trade passes through Hong Kong, which also is where a significant portion of the consumption also occurs.

So the Bloom survey forces us to reconsider the assumption that people in Hong Kong believe eating shark fin soup at a wedding is non-negotiable in a city that is traditionally more focused on status than sustainability. The survey showed that may be changing.

In reality, 70 percent of people surveyed said that they had consumed shark fin at least once in the past twelve months and 90 percent of these at a wedding banquet. Tradition rather than taste was the main reason people said they eat shark fin and 87 percent of the time it is consumed as part of a set menu rather than chosen as an a la carte offering. Of the people surveyed, 43 percent had thought about a replacement dish, indicating that perhaps they were thinking about the sustainability issues around consuming shark fin.

The Bloom survey was conducted by the University of Hong Kong Social Sciences Research Centre. Bloom, WWF and the Hong Kong Shark Foundation are working effectively in Hong Kong to build awareness around the environmental issues associated with shark fin products and decrease their consumption.