WASHINGTON Exploding Asian demand for shark fin soup has slashed worldwide shark populations, and global regulation is the best way to save eight species now under pressure, ocean conservationists reported on Monday.
Eight types of sharks -- oceanic whitetip, dusky, sandbar, spurdog, porbeagle, scalloped, smooth and great hammerhead -- should be regulated under the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a marine expert at the Washington-based group Oceana said.
"The demand for the shark fin is so high, they're being taken out of the water faster than they can reproduce in the water to sustain their population," said Rebecca Greenberg, co-author of an Oceana report released at a U.N. CITES meeting on endangered species being held from March 13 to 25 in Doha, Qatar.
Sharks are under particular pressure because of the growing Chinese appetite for shark fin soup, traditionally a symbol of power and prestige that was formerly reserved for the wealthy.
One of the most expensive foods on Earth, a bowl of shark fin soup can cost $100, and a single fin can be worth $1,300, Greenberg said in a telephone interview from Doha.
Formerly a delicacy reserved for the rich because of the difficulty of catching and processing sharks, shark fins are now within reach of the growing Asian middle class because of improved fishing and processing techniques, she said.
SHARK POPULATIONS PLUMMETING
Up to 22 million pounds (10 million kg) of shark fins are exported annually to Hong Kong by 87 countries, the Oceana report said.
While not seeking a ban on the trade of shark fins, Oceana wants to limit international commerce in this commodity so that the only fins that can be traded and sold internationally are from sustainable shark populations, according to Greenberg.
Because shark populations are found around the world, fishing fleets from various countries travel globally to catch them, and as recently as a decade ago it would have been hard to figure out where the fish came from and whether their population was being sustained.
However, advances in record-keeping requirements for other bodies mean that now the number and provenance of sharks can be determined, which means quotas could be set on how many sharks from could be exported, Greenberg said.
She said her group was "pretty confident" that the CITES meeting would agree to regulation of the eight shark species.
"Many of the nations that we're talking about are conscious that the populations of each individual species are just plummeting around the world because of the high fin demand," Greenberg said.
Representatives of 175 countries are convened at the CITES meeting in Doha.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)