Sharks need their fins more than you

Sharks need their fins more than you!

by Dave Moran

In our last issue we printed a letter from Wade Doak regarding the New Zealand fishing industry supplying shark fins and jaws to overseas markets. We received the following letter from Alastair Macfarlane, General Manger – Trade and Information, NZ Seafood Industry Magazine Ltd.

You printed a letter from Wade Doak in your October/November issue asserting that a ‘national fishing magazine’ was ‘actively promoting the slaughter of sharks just for their fins and jaws’ by running advertising from buyers of shark fins and jaws. You then made an editorial comment to the letter, noting that the advertisement was printed in Seafood New Zealand and called on your readers to write letters of protest to the Minister of conservation.

I am editor of Seafood New Zealand. We do indeed print advertising from companies that want to buy parts of sharks, including fins and jaws. But I utterly reject Wade Doak’s assertion that by doing so we are actively promoting ‘the slaughter of sharks just for fins and jaws’.

The primary objective of commercial fishing is the sustainable harvest of nature’s bounty of fish to provide food for people to buy and eat. Sharks are among that bounty. You and your readers know that some species of shark around New Zealand provide good food. They can also provide useful by-products – livers, skin, fins, jaws and teeth. We support full utilisation of commercial catch.

You also know that some species with little or no commercial value as food are landed in the course of fishing. The New Zealand fisheries management system has legal penalties for dumping of accidental by-catch at sea. The management system requires fishing mortality to be recorded and fishers have strong incentives therefore to find markets for by-catch – as food and as by-products.

Running advertising from buyers of such items assists legitimate fishing operators to find legitimate markets for by-catch and by-products. In no way is this promotion of ‘the slaughter of sharks just for fins and jaws’.

I would have appreciated the opportunity to comment directly to you and your readers on my editorial practice rather than be identified as a protest target to the Minister of Conservation, who incidentally has no direct role in fisheries management.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Macfarlane, General Manager – Trade and Information,

NZ Seafood Industry Magazine Ltd

Dave Moran, Dive New Zealand Editor, replies:

The letter above is self explanatory. The point that seems to be overlooked is what Wade Doak, myself and many others are concerned about: that while many in Asia and worldwide are trying to stop, or at least reduce, demand for shark fin and seahorse products, New Zealand’s commercial fishing interests are actively supplying these markets.

According to Traffic, a watchdog body and division of the World Wildlife Fund, up to 100 million sharks are caught annually. Extinction could even become a reality for species already overfished by 90%.

Industry figures show that in Singapore alone 400 tonnes of shark fins were consumed or traded in 1997, putting it just behind Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Many of the sharks caught have their fins removed and are then chucked overboard to die a slow death.

Groups in Asia are actively trying to stop this practice and reduce demand so that shark numbers can return to sustainable levels. But little will be achieved unless consumers stop demanding shark fin soup. And that really is where New Zealand, and other countries, come into the picture.

As shark numbers decline in Asian waters the need increases for Asian countries to import shark fins to satisfy demand. For the New Zealand exporter there is a dollar or two to be made. Nowadays it is virtually inconceivable for any Chinese gourmet restaurant to exclude shark fin soup from its menu. Especially when customers pay up to US$100 for a single serving.

You might say this is great for New Zealand, earning all those much needed export dollars. If dollars rule your life, nothing will change until there are no more sharks to catch. But if you step back and think about it, you may change your mind. My Asian associates were shocked to learn that New Zealand is actively supplying the markets for shark fins and seahorses while they are working hard to educate people that the myths of increased sexual prowess and other medical benefits are completely unsubstantiated.

The conservationists realise that to change 100 year old traditions is a huge task but the current demand for product is not sustainable.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that as shark stocks dwindle in Asian waters there will be a corresponding increased demand on countries like New Zealand to supply this lucrative market.

How long will it be a ‘by-product’ of the New Zealand fishing industry and how long will ‘nature’s bounty of fish’ and sharks be able to feed the people of the world?

It’s the year 2000, surely those in Government who rubber stamp our fishing policies realise that you can only take, take, take for so long before there is nothing left to take.

Is the export dollar earned by supporting markets for shark fins and seahorse products really worth it?

Public attitude is changing. What was acceptable practice a few years ago is now not. Most New Zealanders would be disgusted to learn that we are supporting such markets. Clean, green New Zealand … hmm… I wonder for how long!

PS The majestic whale shark is now also in the soup bowl. In 1998 an estimated 1000 whale sharks were killed for their fins and meat. See or for more information.

PPS Congratulations to Thai Airways who took shark fin soup off its inflight menu in June. This follows Singapore Airlines who withdrew the soup from its menu last year.

Information source, Nature Society, Singapore.

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