Global Demand for Shark Fins
Shark hunting has been a very recent phenomenon, driven by a booming market for shark fins that flourished greatly with the expanding Asian upper class in past recent decades. Yet humans have hunted and eaten sharks for thousands of years. In China, sharks have been traded as a commodity since the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1279 CE) to make a prestigious soup historically reserved for royalty (V.F. Jaiteh et al). In the 1980s China had massive economic growth, which resulted in the attitude of “to get rich is glorious” that resulted in a surge for the demand of shark fins, regarded as a fruit of prosperity. This transformed artisanal shark fisheries in source countries into commercial fisheries and gave rise to the contentious practice of shark finning, where a shark’s carcass is dumped back into the sea after its fins have been cut off (V.F. Jaiteh et al). Today, fishing for sharks is the main driver globally for their decline in population. These declines have been unprecedented in the years sharks have evolved in diverse marine habitats, “withstanding extreme ecological change and five massive extinction events (V.F. Jaiteh et al)
While shark fin trade happens mainly in Hong Kong, its footprint extends across the globe, with suppliers ranging from small scale fisheries to large industrial operations who target sharks directly or retain them as bycatch, the unwanted fish and other marine creatures caught during commercial fishing for a different species. Indonesia ranks as the world’s largest shark producer, with a reported average annual production of over 106,000 tonnes between 2000 – 2011, or 13% of world chondrichthian captures (V.F. Jaiteh et al). During the same time period, China had a volume of 16,815 tonnes of global imports of shark fin to trade centers with a value of over $375 million while Indonesia’s shark fin exports averaged 1235 tonnes with a value of over $10 million. Some researchers regard Indonesia’s shark fisheries as a product of prized bycatch by tuna longline vessels. This makes a significant contribution to Indonesia’s shark landings. However, some small scale shark fisheries target sharks, fin them at sea, then sell the dried fins as a high-value cash commodity in a region very few profitable livelihood opportunities.
While the Chinese seafood market can largely withstand fluctuations by expanding its network of suppliers and shifting consumer preferences to other prized species, fishers’ livelihoods in source countries are likely to be more immediately affected (V.F. Jaiteh et al). There are many fishing communities in eastern Indonesia whose livelihood have been shaped and depend on the international shark fin trade. Pulau Osi (hereafter Osi), Dobo and Pepela represent fishing grounds whos regions represent three major sea basins. They share similar characteristics in that they all are at the geographic and economic periphery of the country, they have connections to regional markets, and their remoteness and economic constraints make shark fins an ideal trade for these regions. Since shark fins can be sun-dried and stored without the need for ice or freezers and can be sold at higher prices than most other seafood products, many undeveloped regions and communities like these impact both diminishing shark populations and major market fluctuations.
V.F. Jaiteh, N.R. Loneragan, C. Warren. The end of shark finning? Impacts of declining catches and fin demand on coastal community livelihoods. Marine Policy, 82 (2017), pp. 224-233
V.Y. Lam, Y. Sadovy de Mitcheson. The sharks of South East Asia–unknown, unmonitored and unmanaged. Fish and Fisheries, 12 (2010), pp. 51-74, 10.1111/j.1467-2979.2010.00383.x