DNA shows 76 shark species on sale
A REPORT RELEASED in October 2017 included DNA analysis that showed Hong Kong’s lucrative shark fin trade may be damaging more populations of threatened species of shark than had previously been thought. While the blue shark remains a species of particular concern [see the Nov/dec 2017 issue of Action Asia for the story], DNA from 76 different species was found among fins sold at Hong Kong’s dried seafood stores. Almost one third of them are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. That’s according to data obtained from 4,800 random samples of shark fin trimmings – both dried and cooked – collected mainly from ‘Seafood Street’ in Sheung Wan district, between February 2014 and February 2015. Funded by Us-based Pew Charitable Trusts, the research was done in collaboration by the University of Hong Kong with the non-profit group Bloom Association, and the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. Also surprising was the amount of other parts of the fish – including tail skin that many local consumers typically shun – as well as fins from cartilaginous non-shark species such as rays, skates and ratfishes. Some of these are also listed as threatened. Putting it simply, consumers know little about what they are eating and – concerns about sustainability aside – are often being duped into buying something that is not what it seems. Marine Program Director of Bloom Association Hong Kong Stan Shea suggests this comprehensive species data will help better police the trade in the future: “The study provides a species list of the contemporary shark fin market which was not previously available to us. With this knowledge, we can step up our work in motivating better management of the trade, starting from the port of Hong Kong.” Bloom Association Hong Kong has also recently compiled a broader report entitled ‘Wildlife Trade 2.0: Eight steps connecting to the future’, offering policy-related suggestions to the Hong Kong Legislative Council. The document suggests species information be clearly labelled in retail outlets and recommends the introduction of designated wildlife ports, centralising all sea freight including wildlife products to facilitate better and more thorough inspection.