Keeping Shark Fins out of Soup
West End Workshop Supports Regional Hammerhead Conservation

September 27th, 2012
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Debra Abercrombie, a research scientist from the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at New York’s Stony Brook University, explains how to identify the fin of a scalloped hammerhead shark to fisheries officials Rodrigo Forselledo of Uruguay and Joel Cruz of Belize (left).

Debra Abercrombie, a research scientist from the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at New York’s Stony Brook University, explains how to identify the fin of a scalloped hammerhead shark to fisheries officials Rodrigo Forselledo of Uruguay and Joel Cruz of Belize (left).

Fisheries officials from 12 Latin American countries learned to distinguish the fins of endangered shark species from those of other sharks at a two-day workshop at Land’s End sponsored by the Pew Environment Group and the Utila-based Centro de Estudios Marinos.

The workshop was in support of proposals, including one from Honduras and Costa Rica, to add certain shark species to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which would require trade in those species to be tightly regulated. Honduras last year declared its waters a shark sanctuary – the first country in the region to do so.

Shark fins are prized in East Asia by ethnic Chinese, who use them to make a gourmet soup. At the last meeting of CITES parties, in 2010, the United States proposed adding the scalloped, smooth and great hammerhead shark, as well as the sandbar and dusky shark, whose fins closely resemble those of the endangered hammerheads, to Appendix II.

Honduras and Costa Rica have tabled a proposal for the next CITES meeting, to take place in Thailand in March, that would cover only the three hammerhead species. Separately, Germany, on behalf of the European Union, has proposed adding the porbeagle shark to Appendix II, and there is talk among range states of adding the oceanic whitetip shark as well.

China has objected to all these proposals, arguing that it is not possible for fisheries and customs officials, who would have to implement any CITES restrictions, to distinguish the fins of those species from those of other shark species. In response, scientists at New York’s Stony Brook University, with support from Pew and the Roe Foundation, developed a simple nine-page guide for identifying the fins of all the species that have been proposed for CITES protection.

At the September 17-18 workshop, attended by 23 officials from as far away as Chile, experts from Pew, CEM and Stony Brook explained how to use the guide and solicited views on the Honduran/Costa Rican and other proposals. [/private]

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