HK trading fins from endangered sharks, study finds

Local | 31 Oct 2017 8:53 pm

An unprecedented DNA study of shark fin sold in Hong Kong has found a third comes from endangered species, and some of the fins are not even fins at all, but other body parts from sharks or other animals entirely.

Researchers collected more than 4,800 samples of shark fin trimmings from local dried seafood stores between February 2014 and 2015. The species were then identified using genetic analysis.

The blue shark was found to be the species most commonly traded in the city, comprising just over a third of all samples collected. This species of shark is classified as 'near-threatened' by an independent conservation group, the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The DNA analysis showed that at least 75 other species were being sold in the city, and about a third of samples came from species listed as under threat of extinction on the union's Red List of Threatened Species.

Researchers say consumers may be unknowingly eating threatened species, other species that aren't strictly sharks at all, or other shark body parts, because there isn't any labelling on the dried seafood.

A co-author of the study, Stan Shea, the marine programme director at the Bloom Association, said in one case a fin on sale was actually a shark's clasper.

He suggested further improvements that could be made, such as mandating that wildlife cargo should only pass through designated ports, licensing traders, and enhancing training for customs officers.

The study's supervisor, Demian Chapman from Florida International University, said their report also plots a sustainable future for the shark fin trade.

Philip Chou, Global Shark Conservation Officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, said it's important for Hong Kong to take the lead in tackling the problem of the illegal and unsustainable trade in shark fins as the city is a global hub for the trade.

Hong Kong receives shark fin from around 130 countries and territories around the world, and since 2014 three metric tons of illegal fins have been seized at local ports.-RTHK