The EU is responsible for more than a fifth of global shark meat trade
The global trade in shark meat is much larger than that of shark fins, and countries outside Asia, including many EU member states, are key contributors, a new report says. by WWF.
the study dispels a common myth that sharks are caught and traded primarily for their fins and only in Asia.
Spain is the world’s largest shark meat exporter, Italy is the largest importer and the EU accounts for over a fifth of the global shark meat trade.
Although shark fins tend to gain more public and media attention, their global trade in terms of value and volume is paltry compared to shark and skate meat.
Shark meat can sell for as little as $ 0.1 per kg compared to shark fins which could fetch over $ 100 per kg. Still, the report puts the total value of shark and skate meat trade at $ 2.6 billion, compared to $ 1.5 billion for shark fins.
Image credit: WWF
“The demand for shark fins is well known as a driver of overexploitation of sharks and rays, and Asia, where the consumption of shark fin soup is the highest,” says Andy Cornish, responsible for WWF for its global shark and ray conservation program. “This new report highlights a much larger global trade in shark and skate meat that many ignore.”
“These results show that the shark meat trade can be a significant conservation issue, meaning that focusing only on the shark fin trade ignores much of the problem,” adds David Shiffman, a student marine biologist. sharks at Arizona State University.
Overfishing threatens sharks and rays with extinction
According to the latest assessment by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 36% of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction.
Overfishing, including both targeted hunting and the incidental capture – or bycatch – of sharks and rays, is a key factor behind their rapidly running out number.
Yet limited reporting on catch and landing figures and opaque supply chains make it difficult to craft more sustainable fisheries and trade policies.
China’s influence is waning
To fill this data void, WWF hired a team of scientists to develop the first study of the global shark and ray trade using graph theory, a mathematical tool for analyzing networks and relationships.
Using data from the United Nations International Trade Statistics Database (UN COMTRADE), researchers examined the volume and value of global trade in sharks and rays between 2012 and 2019, including relationships import and export of more than 250 traders.
The report provides a critical follow-up to figures released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that examined the global market for shark products between 2000 and 2011.
Image credit: WWF
The report found that China’s role has diminished, possibly due to a high profile campaign against shark finning, although the country is still the world’s sixth largest shark meat importer in terms of volume, and among the top five exporters by value.
Conversely, demand from South East and East Asia, including Singapore and Hong Kong, has increased. Singapore generally re-exports a significant portion of its shark fin and meat imports, which is why the city-state is ranked sixth in the world for shark meat exporters by value.
EU countries at the heart of the global shark meat trade
Image credit: WWF
However, contrary to popular belief, the top three importers and exporters of shark meat in terms of volume and value are located outside of Asia.
“Sharks and rays migrate more when they are dead than alive, as their meat crosses more than 200 borders, with some Mediterranean and European countries playing key roles as importers and exporters, as well as consumers,” explains Simone WWF Mediterranean Marine Niedermueller. Initiative and lead author of the report.
EU imports and exports account for 22 percent of global shark meat trade, and Spain is among the top three traders in terms of volume, value and number of trading partners.
“It is common for public discourse on shark fishing to focus disproportionately on the fisheries management or animal welfare practices of poor fishing countries, including subsistence fishermen, on shark finning and on the demand of Asian markets for shark products, ”explains Catherine Macdonald, Senior Lecturer in Marine Conservation Biology at the University of Miami.
“This research is important because it highlights the role of several high-income countries in shark exploitation, and reiterates that the main drivers of conservation problems are generally globalized supply chains and overconsumption in rich countries. adds Hollie Booth, Sharks and Rays Advisor at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and researcher at the University of Oxford.
The vital role of “trade bridges”
Unlike traditional business analysis, the use of graph theory has uncovered the critical intermediary role of so-called “bridge traders” who might not import or export a significant volume of shark or ray products, but which are essential to ensure their continuous flow around the world. network.
Image credit: WWF
For example, although the high-volume movement of shelf-based products involves traders outside of Europe, some of the most important ‘relay partners’ are located within the EU, such as France, the Spain and the Netherlands.
Image credit: WWF
“While some countries trade in high volumes, others are important to the network and may be essential as countries to focus on trade controls and regulations,” Niedermueller said. The report suggests that future regulatory measures should place equal emphasis on major importers and exporters, as well as major “trade bridges”.
Poor labeling of shark and ray products
The research also touches on the misleading nature of product labels for shark and skate meat: skate fillets are commonly sold under the name “pollo de mar” (sea chicken) in Argentina, while Africa du Sud labels shortfin mako shark meat as “skomoro” (ocean fillets). Shark meat is described as “salmon” (small salmon) in France, as “palombo” in Italy and as “rock salmon” in the United Kingdom.
Widespread seafood fraud, including mislabelling products or laundering illegally caught fish, induce consumers to unwittingly eat endangered species.
Unless they depend on it for food safety, the report recommends consumers avoid purchasing shark or ray products that do not come from traceable and sustainable sources. Few products currently on the market meet these criteria, especially as concerns about the reliability of sustainable seafood certifications continue to grow.
It is also important, however, to recognize and address the role that shark meat plays in poverty reduction and food security, especially in places where it is the cheapest source of protein due to depletion of other overexploited fish stocks, Macdonald adds.
The need for species-level fisheries and trade data
Among its recommendations, the report highlights the need for more granular data on fisheries and trade, including species-level reporting of target catches and bycatch, species-level trade and tariff codes and commodity codes. separate for threatened species.
These data should inform the creation of more sustainable fisheries policies, including measures such as catch limits, no-take zones or shark and ray sanctuaries. It should also be used to increase traceability and transparency throughout the seafood supply chain, and support efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Interestingly, research reveals that secondary target catches of sharks and rays, which describe their deliberate capture with primary target species like tuna, are misclassified as bycatch which tends to receive less political attention.
Bycatch should be differentiated from primary and secondary target catches, and targeted and incidental capture of sharks and rays should be mitigated to combat overfishing.
Although conditions differ from fishery to fishery, permanent or temporary fishing bans in areas where the presence of sharks and rays is significant and the adaptation of destructive fishing gear are some of the measures that can help minimize bycatch, advises Niedermueller.
Better management of sharks and rays caught accidentally on board fishing vessels is also crucial, especially since sharks and rays generally have a good survival rate after release.