On Monday, June 6, a man named Chiu Ching Cheung, the Chairman of the Shark Fin Trade Merchants Association wrote a letter to the Hong Kong Morning Post defending the trade in shark fins.
Captain Paul Watson, founder and president of Sea Shepherd, wrote a reply to the Hong Kong Morning Post, which you will find below the following letter from Mr. Cheung.
Hong Kong Morning Post:
Sharks are not endangered by cutting off fins
We are perplexed by the recent letters and articles in your newspaper about the terrible sin of consuming shark's fin soup and the protests made to Disneyland about the availability of this Chinese delicacy in its restaurants.
In the letters and articles, it is assumed that consuming shark's fin soup is bad because: (a) it results in cruelty to sharks due to the practice of "finning" (cutting off the sharks' fins while the fish are alive and throwing the body back into the sea); and (b) it will cause sharks to be extinct or, at least, endangered.
Both the above assumptions are without any scientific basis.
While we cannot dismiss the possibility that some fishermen may have tried "finning" when the fish is alive (they are more likely to do it for the camera), the many fishermen we come into contact with laugh when we suggest this is alleged to be a widespread practice. The fact is that sharks' fins must be cleanly cut and it does not make sense for two, three or more fishermen to struggle with and try to hold a live shark down so that they can cut its fins cleanly while it is alive. This is not only a waste of manpower and time. It is dangerous. It is much easier for the fins to be cut off when the shark is dead. Besides, shark meat can be eaten.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which is binding on 167 countries (including the US, EU, Australia and China), serves to protect wild animals and plants by ensuring that international trade does not threaten their survival. Today, Cites offers varying degrees of protection to more than 30,000 species of animals and plants. The species are listed in three appendices according to the degree of protection they need. Species in Appendix I are threatened with extinction. Obvious examples are tigers and pandas. No shark species is included.
Appendix II includes species "not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival". Only three of the many species of sharks are included in Appendix II: whale shark, great white shark and basking shark. Appendix III contains "species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked Cites parties for assistance in controlling the trade." There are no sharks in Appendix III.
In other words, apart from the three shark species mentioned, Cites does not consider that sharks are threatened with extinction. Fins from the three species of sharks are currently sold in Hong Kong from very limited stocks, all of which have a Cites licence.
There is much more evidence that many species of tuna are endangered. Yet 3.3 billion cans of tuna are sold worldwide. Perhaps we should also lobby to take tuna cans off the shelves of our supermarkets and stop hotels and restaurants from serving tuna sandwiches and maguro sushi.
CHIU CHING-CHEUNG, chairman, Sharks Fin Trade Merchants Association
June 6th, 2005
To the South China Morning Post,
I am sure that Chiu Ching Cheung is indeed perplexed. That would be the reaction to a person who is in denial about reality when confronted with the facts.
Chiu Ching Cheung represents the Shark Fin Trade Merchants Association. He has a vested interest in denial of the facts.
I have been leading anti-poaching patrols for years in the Pacific and I have intercepted and assisted in the arrest of numerous poachers in cooperation with the Park rangers at Costa Rica's Cocos Island National Park, Colombia's Malpelo National Park, and the Galapagos National Park.
Of all the dozens of poaching vessels we encountered we have discovered and seized thousands of shark fins but we did not find any shark bodies on board, except for the ones on deck recently caught.
We have documented the landing of illegal shark fins in Costa Rica and the rangers of the Galapagos Islands have intercepted dozens of shark fin shipments before they could be smuggled from the country.
We have not only seen but also documented the finning of sharks and we have the video to prove it. We have seen the sharks tossed back into the sea - still alive and struggling to survive despite their cruelly-mutilated bodies.
Chiu Ching Cheung states that there are no sharks listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species although 3 are listed as endangered. However, 5 species of sharks are listed as vulnerable, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists 6 sharks as critically endangered, 3 sharks as endangered, 18 as vulnerable, and 36 as near threatened.
The problem is that there is insufficient data to assess shark numbers. We do know that their numbers have been diminished considerably. We also know that illegally caught shark fins are being sold in Hong Kong and Mainland China. These sharks are being landed illegally in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, and numerous other places throughout the Pacific. How do we know that? Because we have intercepted the sellers and the buyers and the buyers were purchasing for the Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese markets.
Interceptions have taken place by the U.S. Coast Guard off California and Hawaii. Every year, I pull hundreds of miles of illegally set longlines from the ocean with dead and dying sharks attached. Last year we found a hundred silky sharks in a net snagged on rocks a hundred feet down in the Malpelo Island National Park of Colombia. The point is that shark populations have been so diminished that the poachers are risking arrest by invading national parks and United Nations' World Heritage Sites.
Over one hundred million sharks are landed annually. There is no possible way that sharks can survive this kind of assault on its populations when the female shark produces only one offspring on average each year.
And for what? So people can impress their friends and family by paying ridiculous prices for a tasteless bowl of boiled shark fin!
The shark belongs in the ocean as a vital part of marine eco-systems, it does not belong in the bowl of people with such low self-esteem that they need to show off their wealth by contributing to the diminishment of such valuable oceanic species.
I do agree with Chiu Ching Cheung on one thing he said. Tuna are being over exploited and tuna populations are also being diminished. So I will join Chiu Ching Cheung and his call for a tuna fish boycott.
Captain Paul Watson
President - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society