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OSLO (Reuters) - Rising demand for shark fin soup in Asia is spurring illegal fishing and contributing to a plunge in stocks, a report said on Monday.
The study, by the Australian government and the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, urged governments to crack down on illegal catches. Registered legal shark exports totaled $310 million worldwide in 2005, up from $237 million in 2002.
"As the world's demand for sharks continues to grow, shark populations are plummeting," said a statement accompanying the 57-page report. One in five shark species is considered threatened with extinction.
"The Asian market for shark fin is the key driver of shark fishing globally and is fuelling illegal fishing and high levels of legitimate shark fishing of questionable sustainability," it said.
Rising affluence in Asia was stoking demand for shark fin, widely viewed as a delicacy when shredded in soup. Main fin importers are China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.
The report said that only six of the top 20 shark-catching countries -- Taiwan, Mexico, the United States, Japan, Malaysia and Thailand -- had complied with a U.N. call in 2000 for all to work out plans for proper management of stocks.
Experts of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization will meet from November 3-6 in Rome to review measures to protect sharks.
In Hong Kong, the world's biggest shark-fin market, the most commonly traded types were short fin Mako, blue, sandbar, bull, hammerhead, silky and thresher sharks.
The study said it was impossible to say exactly how many sharks were illegally caught.
But a review of vessel seizures showed illegal catches were a problem around the world with "hotspots" off Central and South America and in the western and central Pacific.
Sharks were sometimes caught as a by-catch by tuna fishing vessels. In many cases, crews on illegal vessels slice the fins off sharks and dump the less valuable carcasses overboard.
Off Australia, for instance, 350 illegal vessels were intercepted in 2006-07, mostly Indonesian, with a total 1.6 tonnes of shark fin aboard.
The Traffic organization is run by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the WWF conservation group.