We are shark researchers. We travel by boat to maximize our time on the water, to explore the reefs and record shark activity around remote islands surrounded by the deep blue. From dawn until dusk, we are fishing—elbow deep in freeze-thawed chunks of fish, oily flesh and watered down blood.
We revel in our ability to interact with communities and governments and we are excited that our work may be useful in the sustainable management of local resources. To be honest, it may seem like we have an inflated sense of self-importance. But luckily, we know that while research, policy and management plans are useful shark conservation tools, they are only as good as the people who enforce them.
And no one knows this better than our fearless leader Dr. Demian Chapman and his wife Debra Abercrombie, who have found a way to identify critically important species of dried shark fins—and who are working hard to ensure the world’s enforcement officers learn too.
Why Shark Fin ID Workshops are Needed
As Demian describes in his own words: “In September of this year border control personnel all over the globe will begin looking at the shark fins in trade for the first time. This is because five shark species have been listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It will be illegal to trade fins of these species without certification they came from sustainable fisheries, which is impossible for many of them—oceanic whitetips, three species of hammerheads and porbeagles—because they are simply too depleted for any trade to be allowed. If CITES functions as it is intended, the trade in fins of these species should drop to levels that will allow them to recover. There, of course, lies the rub.
Border control personnel will have to be able to recognize fins from these species among millions of fins in [the shark fin] trade. Without proper training these frontline officers won’t be able to do this and there is little chance that CITES will really have any real bite.”
“For the past two years my wife and I have been training people how to identify shark fins. I like to say that she is the brain of the operation, having developed the content, and I am the mouth, presenting it to the people who need it. Since Fiji is a major stopover for Pacific shark fins headed to Asia this research cruise has provided us with the opportunity reach some key people: Fiji’s Biosecurity officers.”
“I recently held classes with nearly 100 attendees in Nadi and Suva, Fiji and showed them some of the features that separate the fins of CITES species from legal species. These biosecurity officers will play a central role in enforcing the new regulations and their interest and enthusiasm to fills me with hope for the sharks of the Pacific. If similar agencies around the world are the same then CITES may have some teeth after all.”
Together We CAN Make a Difference
We all know that sharks are vulnerable to over fishing and the shark fin trade is largely responsible for the depletion of many iconic species of pelagic sharks such as hammerheads and oceanic whitetips. Yet it’s exciting to see that this year various sectors of government are working together with folks like Demian and Debra to put the brakes on this harmful trade.
“Future generations may look back on 2014 and say that it was the year that this all changed” said Demian. We’re only a few months into the year, but I already echo the sentiment, knowing that every CITES country will hold similar workshops. So many new pairs of eyes looking into shark conservation…as a part of their job!
Let’s keep pushing for sustainable management of sharks and work together to put an end to shark finning.