Shark population dwindles as demand for shark fin soup continues

Sharma shows the Living Planet Report 2016. (File Photo)

SANDAKAN: The lucrative shark fin market continues to drive shark fishing including in Sabah’s waters, leading to a drastic decline in its population with some species becoming endangered from overfishing.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia Marine Conservation head Dr Robecca Jumin pointed out it was still common to see sharks sold at markets in the state and to receive photographic evidence of shark fins being sold to meet both local and international demand for shark fin soup.

A new report released by Oceana, the largest international advocacy organisation focused solely on ocean conservation, stated an estimated 100 million sharks are killed worldwide each year with reports that 73 million of them are caught specifically for shark fin soup.

This is despite extensive scientific work that shows most shark species keep populations of other fish healthy by removing the sick and old ones, thus stabilising the marine ecosystem.

Species of some sharks sighted in Sabah, such as the scalloped hammerhead, which is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as ‘endangered’, have been declining in population by up to 90 per cent in some areas.

Hammerhead shark fins are highly valued for their high fin ray count, hence it is the target in some areas worldwide.

Sabah’s civil society groups are carrying out advocacy campaigns, facilitating scientific research and engaging with the government in a bid to expedite processes that would bring about much needed protection for sharks in Sabah.

The groups are Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA), Scuba Junkie SEAS, Shark Stewards, Scubazoo, Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC) and WWF-Malaysia.

The groups are aware that the vast waters of the state may represent the final safe haven for many of the endangered species.

“The groups working collaboratively in Sabah appeal to the public to stop creating demand for shark fins.

The high demand for shark fins is leading to overfishing of sharks, which are also sought for their meat, skin, cartilage and liver oil,” Dr Robecca said.

The groups have previously stated their support for efforts by both the Federal and Sabah Fisheries Departments to list the great hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, winghead shark, oceanic white tip shark, oceanic manta and reef manta under the Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) Regulations 1999, which falls under the purview of the Fisheries Act 1985.

The group also called for more species such as the scalloped-hammerhead, all species of thresher shark and devil rays to be considered part of the list.

The Regulations, which currently only protect the whale shark and sawfish, state that no person shall fish for, disturb, harass, catch, kill, take, possess, sell, buy, export or transport any of the specified endangered species except with written permission from the director-general of Fisheries.

Meanwhile, SSPA chairman Aderick Chong said shark fin itself does not have nutritional value and could potentially be harmful to consumers due to bioaccumulation of toxins such as mercury when consumed in large amounts over a certain period.

Bioaccumulation is the build-up of substances in an animal’s body, which occurs when the animal takes in the substance at a rate faster than it can get rid of it.

Large marine predatory species, such as sharks, often build up in their bodies levels of mercury  toxic and harmful to humans.

“We are at a point where there is no choice but to stop consuming shark fin soup and other shark related food.

If prestige or social norm is the reason for serving shark fin soup at events such as weddings, there are options such as the non-endangered Empurau which is also a highly prized fish,” he said.

SSPA hosted an exciting public showcase at Imago Shopping Mall on Nov 11 with support from Go Seafood Sdn Bhd which is working with chefs from selected restaurants to come up with a suitable dish using Empurau.

The dish was revealed during the event. — Bernama

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