ISEAS forum on shark fin industry

The record below is an UNEDITED ROUGH TRANSCRIPT typed on a mobile device. I have decided to sacrifice formatting for faithfulness in recording as fast as I can possibly type – it was transcribed “on the fly” and not from a recording. My personal comments are either bolded or in parentheses.

I later found out through readily available public information (just Google it) that Giam was ALSO an employee of Species Management Services and thus was not only on the same “side” of the debate as Jenkins, but from the same “team”. I am extremely pissed off at this deliberate deception by both of them and ISEAS’ either collusion in that deception or failure to look up some basic curriculum vitae information on their panelists. All of us who turned up innocently expecting a more or less honest discussion were lied to.

Featuring CITES committee member Giam Choo-Hoo, ACRES’ Louis Ng, 2 other panelists. Moderator: Tan Keng Jin.

Slide on basic shark taxonomy & biology
Other shark product uses: liver oil, shagreen leather for polishing wood & grating wasabi
Sacred to some Pacific Islanders; moderator recommended removing from Istana menu in case their diplomats visit.

Giam begins.

Shit!!! Stupid WordPress Android client. I just lost several paragraphs on catch stats and practices. Basically he said about 70% catches are from developing countries vs 30% developed; artisanal fishing takes most; overall abt 80% is bycatch and only 20% is targeted; most fins are taken from dead bycatch.

(All the below are quotes or paraphrases of the speaker unless explicitly stated as my opinion =P)
“Endangered?” Sawfish 6 species in Appendix I, 3 spp in Appendix II. There are more than 400 spp.

Saying sharks are endangered is like saying birds are endangered.

Many abundant eg spiny dogfish and blue sharks. Giam explains CITES and Appendix I definition briefly.
Appendix II: basking shark, great white, whale shark. AppII can be bought sold or traded.
No other AppI proposals since listing sawfish in 2007. In contrast, atlantic bluefin tuna listed in recent years.

“Live finning”: cutting of fins from a live shark.
Live finning difficult and physically dangerous.
… has misled the world into thinking live finning is common and pervasive.
Some exceptions: longline tuna boats when sharks are caught as bycatch, cut fins and discard sharks to make room for tuna.
Reasons live finning not the norm:
1. 70% sharks caught by developing countries, land whole sharks and sell locally. Fins are salvaged.
2. Developed countries catch 30%. Spain, US, France, Portugal, NZ. Their governments do not allow live finning.
3. Claim of 73 million sharks finned per year impossible in terms of manpower, would require millions of fishermen (my comment: this sounds bloody ridiculous, you mean 1 fisherman is only capable of doing 1 or 2 per year? Anyway how many million ppl are in fisheries where sharks are caught?)
4. Law: EU 5% law, fins cannot exceed 5% live wt of shark catch. Taiwan also bans live finning.

Cultural discrimination
Sturgeon are in Appendix I but no one is campaigning to stop caviar, nor atlantic bluefin tuna meat. (My comment: Liar liar pants on fire)
Atlantic salmon overfished
Spiny dogfish is a shark but is highly abundant and no one is campaigning to stop eating it

Three sharks in Appendix II: these should be protected.
1. Do not allow catch or landing of protected sharks
2 (I missed what this point was)
3. Limit use of protected sharks products
4. Ban recreational shark fishing as in US and Canada

Banning shark fin soup is not a solution
Fins from bycatch will be wasted
The 20% of targeted sharks will have to be finned and fins discarded also.
Hurts livelihood of millions of fishermen in poor countries.

10 min snack break. Tan Hang Chong, an NSS member & adventure guide, chatting to “Lynn” from Conservation Intl’s recently established Sg branch. Sardine sandwiches.

Panel discussion
Louis Ng, ACRES
Hank Jenkins, Species Managment Specialists my comment: sounds like a name from a 1950s US tv show
Prof. Steve Oakley, Sharksavers Malaysia

Oakley is up. Mod introduces him: has worked in Msia for some years, coastal conservation & shark population monitoring in Borneo. Sabah sharks fell 98% in 16 years!!!!
Sharks have been declining in direct proportion to prosperity in China
FAO has been concerned w shark fisheries in 1990
“I’m a sinner” has killed many sharks for stomach content sampling on commercial longliners & trawlers. Agrees w Giam tt no one wants to handle live shark, they are killed by clubbing usually.
Worked in Jamaica decades ago- almost equal chacnes of catching fihs vs shark on line. Back then they didn’t know there was a market in E Asia.

75M sharks killed- is this a problem?
7B ppl on this planet, we eat a lot of animals
What do we not eat? Spp for which populations are unsustainable

2 points:
1. Information/knowledge: we can count land animals like orangutans &elephants but not hammerheads or great whites. We need infromation for managemet.
2. Regulation: Appendix I gives priority to poor artisanal fishermen. Eg Greenland and Faroe whalers. Traditional whaling. 950 pilot whales/y in Faroes is not significant.
Balance between conservation & consumption. Eg Ostional olive ridley turtle eggs collected and sold by locals for 1st 36 hours of nesting season (rationale: the first nests will be dug up by later-arriving turtle mothers anyway), protect nests and hatchlings from predators/poachers subsequently.

Artisanal fishers: shd they get special treatment? Resoundingly YES.

Core issue: Are shark fisheries manageable?
Issue of whether fins or meat more valuable irrelevant, what matters is the shark is dead.

Live finning a moral/cultural/ethical issue but dead is dead.
(Eg halal slaughter by exsanguination, fish suffocate to death, lobsters & crabs boiled alive)
We all have different cultures and morals, will disagree on cultural issues. What we can agree on is sustainable management.

Whether or not populations are falling, managment is still needed to sustain livelihood for poor ppl in Sg.
We are in singapore, a “fine city” but there are no regulations on this industry!! (Compared to farmed terrestrial animals)

Pulls up list of national and international regulations on shark fishing and finning. Taiwan banned finning recently. Bahamas banned ALL shark fishing in 2011, Congo-Brazzaville in 2001. Sabah cabinet banned fishing in May 11.
To answer the original question: who thinks 75M sharks killed per year is too many? LOTS OF PEOPLE.

Goes briefly into why sharks as top predators important ecologically & for tourism.
Shows graphs of N Am 1970-2005 shark fishery, cownose ray (chief food for sharks in this area), and scallops (also commercially important, which cownose rays eat): sharks fished out, cownose rays went up, scallops crashed.

Ecotourism: also benefits poor communities, can be lucrative in reefs which are marginal for fishing. Eg Fiji
Nursery effect where the fish in protected tourist diving areas swim to unprotected areas, fish stocks go up.

Bahamas: huge income from tourism and MOVIES. Sharks in movies nearly always in Bahamas. $40m/year.
Palau: values live sharks @ $1000000, dead $65-100.
South Africa: great whites worth $75000/day to local economy.

Shark fin soup not worth as much as live sharks and the $ mostly goes to traders, not local fishermen.

Sabah survey in 1996/7, over 1000h underwater. Could not raise govt support in 2002. Repeated survey in 2010/11 when fisheries dept realised it was an issue.
Most sites in 10/11 no sharks at all. Only few sites had a shark on every dive. Sipadan is a big hotspot, 40-50 per dive.
Overall: 96.42% fall in populations from ’97–’10/11. In 97 was only 3 sharks per 1000h underwater!
Most common white-tip reef shark fell by 98%.

Compare to “best” reefs in Fiji, Palau, Red Sea have 40-120 sharks per 1000h diving. Sabah USED to have 40/1kh in 1970s.

Sipadan protected area is only 2km, but a hammerhead swims 50km/night! Hammerheads go along underwater mt range.

Other problem: transboundary, sharks will go across national borders.

There are now only 100 places in the world you can see sharks. 5000 dive locations no sharks. This was NOT the case few decades ago.

Regulations: made by politicians, respond to public pressure.
Eg. Tope in UK, now catch & release only
EU banned shark fishing in 2003 but loopholes allow finning. Some spp still not recovered from heavy fishing in 80s.
UK consumers DO NOT eat spiny dogfish any more. Shark still eaten in Portugal, Spain.
SEA: fishballs typically made w cheapest fish which is usually shark.
USA success: NOAA Fisheries director implementing regulations on quotas, gear, recreational fishing, seasons.

Should Singaporeans eat shark fin soup? Would you eat dolphins, sealions, whales, elephants, rhinos…
Simple answer NO
Complex answer YES if from certified sustainable source. (Example from land: FSC)

AVA in Sg should regulate protected areas for the ocean.
Eg landfills can be substrate for planting corals.

Aquariums should not be the only place our children and grandchildren can see sharks. They should be available to all of us.

Hank Jenkins: “The Anti Shark Fin Campaigns: Fact or Fiction?”

“If all the NGOs were as logical and rational as Steve, I don’t think there would be an issue.”

Gives timeline of shark fishery & conservation issues from early 90s, UN and NGO involvement

(I really should go back to work…)

Lobbying by NGOs to CITES to include more sharks in NGOs have not resulted in any Appendix II listings. (Me: well that’s the problem with CITES, it’s run by governments, so shouldn’t we be going by IUCN instead?), hence have focused more on consumers in recent years “campaigns waged against Chinese communities around the world” (my comment: good grief he makes it sound like pogroms)

NGO tactics
1. Define & publicise a problem with easily understood cause and effect
2. Identify a villain, ie Chinese
3. Present worst case scenario: sharks will go exticnt
4. Manipulate facts, eg present the belief abt cruelty of live finning
5. Give simple solution: if Chinese ppl stop eating sharks we will save them.

NGO misinformation
Failure to differentiate finning of live vs dead
Failure to distinguish how many of 26-73M sharks/year (source for numbers: Clarke 2006) for fins only vs whole bodies retained for meat
Claim that all the 73m sharks were live finned
Over-dramatizing by conflating “commercial extinctions” with biological extinction
Claiming that fins are traded on black market

Images of finned sharks: unknown whether animals are dead of alive. (me: this is why images online need sources cited) Claims WildAid’s image of drifting hammerhead is staged bc can see a dinghy on the surface, small organisms feeding ard its gills means it has been dead some time “clearly an orchestrated photo”

Targeting sharks for fins not economically viable for pelagic fishery
Live finning illegal and condemned by industry
3 sources of fins: bycatch of pelagic longline fisheries, byproducts or targeted shark fisheries, multispecies artisanal fisheries
Claims of extinction are fallacious & conflate commercial, biological extinction
Banning shark fins deprives poor communities of income.

Conclusion: little doubt that many shark fisheries overexploited. Problem will not be solved by banning trade in fins without banning consumption of meat.

Jenkins present example of “new and disturbing development (sic) campaigning”: Toronto Chinese Business Association received hate mail for protesting fin soup ban. Jenkins flashes past slide w copy of hate mail bc transmission of such is illegal, he says.

Oakley agrees hammerhead photo faked BUT says other photo gray reef shark real & taken in Sabah near Sampoerna, however sharks are clubbed to death. When boat fills up, fins are cut off and bodies of less valuable spp dumped. Mabul is full of divers with cameras, so not unlikely to photograph. Practice of dumping now stopped bc upsetting divers.

Louis Ng, ACRES (is registered as intl NGO in Australia & Laos also).
Goes straight to topic of helping to poor, presents numbers on ecotourism $ in Red Sea & Palau & Bahamas.
Aside from income from diving operations, also F&B industry, hotel, airport…

17% sharks are listed as threatened or endangered by IUCN; unlike Cites these are based entirely on scientific data.
The 14 most common spp of sharks are unsustainably fished.
47% are listed as data deficient by IUCN meaning we simply don’t know.
Most sharks are slow-growing & produce few young over lifetime.
Catches in various oceans declined by 90% or more(several examles given)

Shelley Clarke 2008: shark meat not lucrative so fishermen have strong incentive to fin and dump bodies.
2011 Taiwanese boat 1st to be caught using new practice of landing skeletons w meat from bodies removed.

Two wrongs don’t make a right: no point blaming Europeans or Chinese, this is a global problem.
Companies such as Carrefour, Ntuc, Cold Storage are responding to CONSUMERS in stopping stocking sharks fin

Health: US FDA, Victoria state in Aus, issued advisories against children & pregnant women consuming sf due to mercury
Thai judge ruled tt WildAid did present scientific data tt sf may be harmful

Taste: sf is essentially tasteless, a restaurant in Sg was fined for serving fake sf for years, customers couldn’t tell. Why not take the ethical alternative?

Let’s focus on making the trade in fins and meat sustainable before we consider eating.

“The very essence of being human is being humane.”

Q&A session:
Hang Chong:
IUCN is not just an Ngo, it is an international body
Cites is not a wildlife body, it is a wildlife TRADE body. They are more interested in trade than conservation
Not true that there is no campaign against bluefin tuna consumption
Also not true that most caviar is from sturgeon.
Can the panelists state their interests? Is dr Giam representing Cites?
Ann Wee, NUS:
Which sharks have valuable fins? Do any other fish have fins of culinary value?

Giam responds:
Only government can be members of Cites, bt Ngos can be members of Iucn.
Acknowleges that other fish are sources of roe but says anti shark fin campaigns still discriminatory bc the other campaigns have less force
Populations numbers going down not the same as extinction
Not representing Cites, here in personal capacity

Jenkins: is representing his company
Does not believe in prohibiton, eg alcohol & narcotics bans expensive and don’t work
Interest lies in “clearly and correctly defining the problem”

Oakley: Chairman of Sharksavers Malaysia, speaking both for himsle f and organisation
Value of fins: depends on size therefore whale, basking sharks most valuable. Very little difference in flavour, ther is a difference in the PERCEPTION of how much money has been spent. Many Chinese dinners he’s attended displayed the fin before the meal to show size.

Ng: fin trade different from drug trade bc you cannot consume fins secretly, you serve bc you want to show off
Cites involves countries financial considerations, Iucn does not.

More Qs:
What % of fins are from illegal fishing/finning?
Suggests purchase of sf be only allowed for special occasions eg must show marriage certificate, birth cert
How is fake sf made?
Who funds Acres?
Comparing ecotourists w sf consumers, why should we value the interest of 1 group of ppl over others?
Given proportion of bycatch to targeted, how do you manage the bycatch? Is it safe to say that only 20% of fins on market are for targeted fishing?

Giam to 1st Q: dunno what % are illegal
Figures refer to catches overall, dunno breakdown of sources of fins that reach market.
Assuming you ban fins altogether, the 20% targeted sharks will still be caught

Ng: the bycatch will still be caught but if there was no market, fishermen would release them
Acres’ finances and staff salaries are all online. Advertising, design, etc are done pro bono by volunteers
Fake sf made from gelatin & konnyaku jelly, recipe on Acres website. Its healthy and has no mercury.

Oakley: the 80% statistic depends on what the target spp is. Some boats target both tuna and hooks using shark hooks, but some boats use only tuna hooks; sharks may bite both.

Jenkins: bycatch is a fisheries mgmt problem. As Steve said, there as methods to be more specific as to what spp you catch.
Problem w FAO is that it’s a voluntary association, members states can do anything.

Ng re interest groups question: It’s not just the interest of divers, there are economic benefits which governments recognise

More Q:
River, writer:
For Giam- why do you consider ban on sf discriminatory? Sf soup is recent, middle class status symbol
Denise, NUS undergrad:
Bluefin tuna endangered, not listed in Cites App I. Therefore could there be species of sharks that are endangered but not listed by Cites?
With the 2/3 majority rule in Cites how can it balance trade w marine conservation?
Eugene, project Fin

Jean, public
If live finning is rare practice why do so many companies ban it?

Giam re discrimination: the campaigns focus on sf soup and not other spp equally endangered. Fin trade also unrelated to fishing of sharks.
Re bluefin tuna: 170 countries agreed bluefin “not that bad to be listed in Appendix I”
3 App II species of sharks: next Cites mtg next year, will decide then if they are to be moved up.

Jenkins: the 3 Appendix II spp
Appendix I does not solve mgmt problems. Spp in App I eg tiger, rhino continue to decline.
Re tourism vs sf consumers: wrong to pose as either/or, can have both with sustainable mgmt
How much benefit do coastal communities get from ecotourism? Most successful operations are by expats, benefit to locals from employment and little else.

Oakley: agrees ecotourism not solution everywhere.
Example Great Barrier Reef, fishign in some parts, tourism in others.
Tuna and Cites: Cites is a political organisation.
Tuna boats took advantage of war in Libya to fish Bluefin in Libyan waters. Why didn’t this get to Cites? Because of Japan’s political power. Bluefin will never get onto Cites while Jp has that power to buy enough influence to prevent 2/3 majority vote.

John, Asian Geographic.
We have to find a solution in Singapore- no incentive to stop eating sf because we have no shark ecotourism
Pei Chong, Nus PhD Bio student
We ARE doing coral reef restoration here, I’m doing my dissertation on it
Dr Giam needs to cite sources, normalise data by fishing effort and total catch by region.
Paper in Science by NUS on Cites data
Dex, public
Is misinformation by Ngos (claimed by Jenkins) pushing public away from idea of mgmt? What can we do about it, to return to focus on mgmt?

Giam: nobody really knows what’s going on. His numbers are based on FAO figures. Problem: data collection at the national level. 125 countries.

No gov in the world has sufficient funds to address enviro problems so they prioritise according to public interest
Conservation NGOs are big business. Money allows them to lobby in Washington, Brussels, etc.
Creates problems bc it takes away resources from spp that are “really” on brink of extinction.

ACRES is not calling for lifetime ban, only temporary until stocks are stabilised
Dr Giam has said we need to stop/reduce harvest, that means stop/reduce consumption
Acres is not ruled by financial incentives. I’m the highets paid staff and I get $1.9k/month

Tan: it’s not a question of one side or another, we are all on the same planet
A lot of people have said they want the choice, not for that to be taken away from them by the restaurants.

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5 Responses to ISEAS forum on shark fin industry

  1. Jen Martin says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this transcript. I really appreciate it, especially when you said that you had to go back to work. I’m too far away (in the American Midwest, Wisconsin) to have attended this forum, so I am *very* grateful that you did. THANKS!

  2. Pingback: Shark’s Fin Soup Helps the Poor: Is the Fin Industry all that Bad? » » Tropical Research and Conservation Centre Tropical Research and Conservation Centre

  3. Amazingly accurate transcription of the actual talks.
    Well done
    For more in depth information see
    the shark savers blog ( click here)

    read the presentations ( click here)

    Prof Steve Oakley Speaker at shark fin debate in Singapore.

  4. Pingback: Incorrect reporting by Singapore Newspapers » » Tropical Research and Conservation Centre Tropical Research and Conservation Centre

  5. Leesa Mira says:

    This transcript of the actual talk is very informative. Thanks for sharing!

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