Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Shark Trade Online Continues Unabated
I had a conversation this week with Rich Clothier from Shark Guardians. Rich has been promoting shark conservation through an awareness drive, drawing particular attention to shark products being made readily available on popular domestic outlets such as ebay and Amazon. Their primary goal is to achieve ten thousand signatures in this petition. There will be a few people who read this who will grumble about petitions not being effective, but I would draw their attention to the fact that it was not so long ago, 2008/09 that one such opinion based movement managed to dislodge alibaba.com's zeal for online shark fin trade, and thesharkgroup campaign led by shark superman Wolfgang Leander achieved a promise by chairman Jack Ma that there would be a cessation of trade in shark fin products on alibaba. This recent listing shows that orders do show up from time to time, but alibaba's 'no fins'policy is internally policed and such incidents are controlled whenever they come to light (we are told).
So, what about us bastions of conservation, the Europeans and North Americans, you know, the ones that make laws with handy finning loopholes allowing us to be one of the primary suppliers of shark's fin into the Hong Kong markets? Should we even be surprised that ebay and amazon have a vast array of shark products for sale? When I looked at ebay today to see just how many shark products are up for grabs, I could see over 14,000 listings for sharks teeth, beginning with full jaws of megalodon and great white, with the former topping nearly 60,000 USD. I'm sorry, did I say great white jaws were for sale? Surely I must be mistaken, as trade in their body parts are tightly restricted due to them being CITES appendix I listed right? Oh sorry, this guy's informative listing tells me I can only buy it if I am not asking him to post it across a border. Silly me.
Squalene is the next item to have a series of multiple and sometimes high priced items, starting at a massive $US 750 for a few pills, with no less than 4000 listings on amazon.
It would be naive of me to suggest that this trade is clear cut black and white good versus bad. Obviously it is not going to affect the megalodon population by trading a few fossils, I even came across a guy on our local beach last spring hunting for fossilised sharks teeth; for anyone who doesn't know, I live on the south coast of England where the now defunct fishing fleet wiped out our local sharks about 20 years ago, so fossils are about the only thing you can find here that is shark related here. I guess therein lies the deeper question: Is a person who collects shark fossils and memorabilia, the die hard shark fan, are they deeply allied to the wider cause of shark conservation? There must be a philanthropic based shark research paper mileage in that one surely.
But the real problem here is the wider issue of online trade in shark's fin. Thankfully ebay and amazon were free from those products, but it was not difficult to find a number of online bulk traders elsewhere, pushing dried shark fin based in the Far East and India, with many traders promising to meet a demand of 1 tonne per week. So depending on what loophole your supplier is exploiting and the size of the shark caught that could mean anything between 3300 to 5000 small sharks (>1m juvenile hammerheads for example) or 400 to 550 medium sharks (2m requiem species) and I'm making a wild stab at those figures based on what I've seen happening daily on some beaches, and those wild stabs are probably way underestimating the fact that I'm totting up freshly caught sharks, considering these traded fins are dried, therefore a lot lighter. Remember, that 1 tonne is a per week figure for one supplier, to one online trader. That means that one trader could be accounting for 1/4 million sharks per year. Ok lets not get into the whole how many millions? detraction, whatever the total is, that's a hell of a lot of sharks, and it is happening online, easily, and freely, just like our weekly shop at Tesco.
I am not going to theorise a solution here, but I have been somewhat surprised to see one possible solution bandied about freely, as if it were the holy grail of halting shark demise; that is eco-tourism through shark diving. The paraphrase popped up during the widely discussed Giam Choo Hoo fracas last week, and today is proposed as a discussion on the highly respected RJ Dunlap page.
I won't go into the pros and cons of the behavioural changes issue and how that weighs in against the pro shark Zeitgeist generated by elated divers emerging from such interactions, basically because this guy will, and has done a better job of it, but, I will say this loud and clear: the view that all sharks can, or should, be saved by eco-tourism operations is deeply flawed. Most of the sharks that suffer from pressure generated by overfishing are migratory, skittish and predominantly pelagic. Developing any kind of tourist activity around these sharks, if not impossible, would require an enormous amount of input, and many hours of failure at encountering the quarry, and a decent helping of insanity (in this summary, I don't mean rocking up and copying someone else's business model, I mean getting out there and changing the game from scratch). Many such species, threshers, makos, even blues, would be impossible to dive with for the average Joe tourist, who might be falsely lulled into thinking they were a reborn shark whisperer after being suffered by the slumbering cuddliness of a nonchalant whale shark or having enjoyed the approaches of an inquisitive manta ray. How many thresher shark dives are there worldwide? Two? one and a half? The interests of these ops are in the hands of a few locals or ex-pats, who have the capital to invest in a tourist class boat or resort, whilst the rest of the impoverished fishing community stick to eking out a meagre living from a very uncomfortable panga from an ever dwindling supply of fish. I think the quantifiable potential income for the wider fishing communities is as incalculable and unlikely as ever determining just how many sharks are falling victim to directed fishing each year. The real answer to the overall problem lies in community derived sustainability through fisheries management where the community is the stakeholder, and where eco-tourism forms a part (small or large, depending on the circumstances) of that plan.
Oh dear, I seem to have wandered from the initial purpose of this post, please sign Rich's petition and then have a long hard think about the rest of this blog, if you come up with any more answers let me know.