The Society of Wilderness announced on World Oceans Day yesterday the launch of a shark protection campaign and festival to remind people to care for and protect the oceans.
The non-governmental organization said the UN recognized World Oceans Day in 2008 and that this year the organization was focusing on shark protection because Taiwan is the fourth-largest consumer of shark globally.
Estimates by scientists show that between 40 million and 70 million sharks are slaughtered worldwide for their fins every year, it said.
Sharks are at the top of the ocean food chain, taking long periods to grow to adulthood and having low fertility rates, the organization said.
Because of this, the shark population cannot grow fast enough to keep up with mass consumption by humans, it said, adding that the rapidly decreasing number of sharks would destroy the oceans’ ecological balance.
Coast Guard Administration Department Chief Huang Chao-Chia (黃肇嘉) said Taiwanese lacked oceanic awareness and an oceanic culture, and needed more education before Taiwan can really become an “oceanic country.”
“Oceans are the world’s largest habitat, so a healthy Earth needs healthy oceans,” the society’s marine conservation coordinator, Lin Ai-lung (林愛龍), said.
“However, consumption of shark fin is a waste of ocean resources, with 5 percent of the shark’s body eaten, while the other 95 percent is wasted,” Lin said.
Allen Chen (陳昭倫), a research fellow on coral reef evolutionary ecology and genetics at Academia Sinica’s biodiversity research center, said the oceans faced four threats: excessive fishery, ocean pollution, habitant destruction — with about 55 percent of the coastline in Taiwan covered in cement — and global climate change.
Chen said growing up in a fishing family, his grandfather would tell him many stories about being scared of sharks swimming near their rowboat when fishing in nearby waters.
Now, however, even with more than 20 years diving experience, he no longer sees sharks because of excessive fishing.
Between 75 percent and 80 percent of the shark fins consumed in Taiwan are captured in distant waters, Chen said, adding that since Taiwan was not a UN member, excessive shark fishing could not be effectively controlled by international fishery monitoring organizations.
The society said it was planning to investigate shark meat across the nation to determine which species of shark are captured and from where, Lin said, adding that the effort would require the help of the public by providing meat samples and funding.
Lin also called for the creation of a fish product traceability system.