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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 01:04 GMT
Sharks endangered by fin trade
Sharks BBC
Sharks are under mounting pressure
By the BBC's John McIntyre

Large schools of the bizarre-looking hammerhead shark are part of the magical allure of world heritage marine parks such as the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island off Costa Rica.

Hammer BBC
Illegal shark fishing is very profitable
But the few places where it is still possible to see such wildlife spectacles are increasingly under threat from the burgeoning commercial shark industry, according to the environmental pressure group WildAid.

It claims the wasteful practice of finning, where the shark's fins are sliced off and the carcass discarded, is putting populations of the ocean's top predator under mounting pressure, even in danger of collapse.

Worse still, WildAid claims, the demand for shark fins as an expensive delicacy has led to the growth of illegal fishing in precious marine reserves like Galapagos and Cocos.

Elephant slaughter

Eliecer Cruz, director of the Galapagos National Park Service, said: "The illegal fishing for shark fins in the Galapagos has increased dramatically in the past few years.


Illegal fishing for shark fins in the Galapagos has increased dramatically in the past few years

Eliecer Cruz, Galapagos National Park Service
"It's very profitable and has created a mafia here. But it is very difficult to stop and it can cause corruption in our institutions."

According to WildAid, about 100 million sharks are killed every year in a trade which it likens to the scandal of the slaughter of elephants for their ivory.

The fins themselves are dried and often end up in soup in Chinese restaurants all over the world, commanding prices of up to $80 per pound.

Management plans

A single bowl of soup can fetch as much as $150. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever to back up claims that the fins possess any beneficial medicinal qualities for man though in the Far East, sharkfin soup is as much as about prestige as anything.

Soup BBC
Shark fin soup is an expensive delicacy
Sharks have had a bad press for decades, and there are those who believe the "only good shark is a dead shark". But they are a vital part of the food chain, keeping the world's oceans in check.

Some species have limited protection in certain parts of the world, but if the decline in shark populations is to be reversed, say the experts, governments will need to draw up management plans.

It is an issue which is to be discussed at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation meeting in Rome between 26 and 28 February.

Tourist trade

Peter Knights, director of WildAid, said in the group's latest report, The End of the Line, that human activity posed a global threat to sharks.

Sharks BBC
Conservation groups are urging more effective regulations
"Solutions will come only from learning more about sharks, reducing fishing pressure, stopping unnecessary catches, monitoring shark fishing and trade, and more effective enforcement of regulations," he said.

An irony today is that a live shark in the wild can be worth thousands of dollars to the booming tourist trade in diving.

Gradually, people are realising that to share a close encounter with these remarkable animals is difficult to put a price on.

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See also:

09 Feb 01 | Americas
Shark attacks at record high
19 Jan 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Swimming With Sharks
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