Mon, May 13, 2002 - Page 11 News List

International shark symposium swims into town

With its massive market for shark products, Taiwan is in a strong position to provide international leadership in creating a sustainable environment for shark fishing

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Long the target of international criticism in relation to questionable fishing practices and a lack of conservation awareness, Taiwan's fishing industry will be under the spotlight once again this coming week, when the Shark Conference 2002 kicks off in Taipei today.

Organized jointly by the National Taiwan Ocean University (國立台灣海洋大學) and WildAid -- a US based non-profit organization -- the four-day conference is set to see a host of shark experts from around the world taking to the podium and addressing shark related matters ranging from utilization, conservation and shark attacks.

The choice of Taiwan as the host nation was not made in order to chastise Taiwan's much-maligned fishing industry, however. Instead the nation was chosen by WildAid because the NGO believes that Taiwan's fishing industry has the potential to become a role model for fishing industries across the globe in the area of shark conservation and shark fishery management.

"We're not here to criticize Taiwan, but encourage [it]," stated Peter Knights, director and founder of WildAid. "Taiwan was chosen not only because it is a hub of shark fishing and importation, but also because we feel that Taiwan is in a unique position to show leadership in the field of utilization and sustain-ability."

With an annual catch of between 30 to 50 thousand tons, or 7 percent of a global shark catch totaling roughly 800 thousand tons, Taiwan is the world's fifth largest producer of shark-based products behind Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Spain.

According to the most recent statistics released by the Council of Agriculture (行政院農業委員會), which are based on a study undertaken in 2000, of the 47,741 tons of shark caught that year, 38,447 tons was taken from far seas shark fisheries and 9,294 tons was taken from coastal shark fisheries in the seas adjacent to the township of Suao (蘇澳) on Taiwan's east coast.

In addition, Taiwan is also a major importer of shark. In recent year's sales of shark caught by fishing fleets based out of India, the Philippines and Spain have increased in order to fulfill the demand for shark in Taiwan. The meat is primarily used in the manufacture of fish balls.

"We're not opposed to the fishing of shark or the eating of shark. The situation is that the fishing of sharks is unmanaged. This is what makes it unsustainable, as nobody knows the actual numbers of sharks in the oceans," continued Knights.

According to Knights, one way in which Taiwan can help monitor shark populations is to offer financial incentives to fisherman to tag sharks rather than to slaughter them. While this task is undertaken by universities and government bodies in Australia and the US, the concept is relatively new to Taiwan.

"With the exception of the fin, shark is not a high-end fish product. In fact, its meat is cheap and considered second rate by most people," explained Liu Kwang-ming (劉光明), professor at the National Taiwan Ocean University's department of fishery science (國立台灣海洋大學魚業科學學系). "This is one of the main reasons shark fishing hasn't been monitored as closely as tuna fishing, for which extensive records dating back nearly 50 years exist."

At present the most frequently used method of collecting data on shark populations in the seas around Taiwan is word of mouth. This rough and ready method relies on fishermen comparing the size of last year's catch with this year's. Needless to say, this only gives authorities a very rough estimate as to the actual number of sharks in Taiwan's territorial waters.

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