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Up to 73 million sharks killed per year for their fins

Up to 73 million sharks killed per year for their fins

Up to 73 million sharks killed per year for their fins
October 3, 2006

Between 26 million and 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins according to a new paper published in the October 2006 edition of Ecology Letters. The estimates are three times higher than those projected by the United Nations.

White Shark caught by John G. Casey off Montauk, NY on Oct. 8, 1964. Image courtesy of NOAA.

“Without any real data, numbers as high as 100 million had been floating around for a while, but we had no way of knowing whether or not this was accurate,” said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, co-author and executive director of the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science. “This paper, which produces the first estimate based on real data, shows that the actual number of sharks killed is indeed very high but is more likely to be in the order of tens of millions, with a median estimate of 38 million sharks killed annually.”

Shark fin is a popular delicacy in Asia — especially China, where it is typically served in shark fin soup weddings, business dinners, and other celebrations. Shark fin soup can fetch up to $120 per bowl. Fins are usually sliced off as the shark, often while still alive, which is then thrown back into the ocean.

“Due to the low value of shark meat in many markets, shark fins may be the only part of the shark retained, and often these fins are not recorded in the catch log or when landed at ports. I knew we had to somehow access the major markets if we were to accurately estimate the number of sharks killed,” said Pikitch.

The researchers used a statistical model based on data from Hong Kong traders to calculate the aggregate weight and number of sharks represented in the fin trade.

“The shark fin trade is notoriously secretive. But we were able tap into fin auction records and convert from fin sizes and weights to whole shark equivalents to get a good handle on the actual numbers,” says lead author Shelley Clarke, Ph.D, an American fisheries scientist based in Hong Kong and Japan.

The shark fin trade, combined with over fishing in general, has taken a heavy toll on global shark populations. 20 percent of shark species are threatened with extinction according to the IUCN’s 2006 Red List of Threatened Species.

The new paper estimates that demand for shark fin is rising at 5 percent per year in China, a level that may not be sustainable for some species of sharks.

“One of the most productive sharks is the blue shark, and it appears that the catch rate is near the maximum sustainable level,” said Clarke. “But such assessments were not available for other, less productive shark species. It is quite likely that sustainable catch levels have already been exceeded in some cases.”

This article is based on a news release from Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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