The Society of Wilderness (SOW) yesterday said a survey showed that up to 98 percent of the shark species served as food in Taiwan — either as shark meat or shark fins — were near-threatened or vulnerable species.
The society initiated a shark DNA examination program in 2011, using funding from nearly a thousand donors and the help of 16 volunteers to gather samples of shark meat or fins sold at markets, fish ports, food stalls and restaurants.
From the total collection of 1,000 shark meat samples, a random selection of 548 tissue samples was analyzed for DNA at an Academia Sinica laboratory to determine the species of shark.
The SOW said Taiwan’s fishing fleets are responsible for the fourth-largest shark catch in the world, so understanding the shark species consumed by people in Taiwan is important for formulating shark-conservation plans in the future.
Working with the group, Academia Sinica Biodiversity Research Center fellow Chaolun Allen Chen (陳昭倫) said shark finning has contributed to the over-exploitation of sharks. The fin accounts for less than 5 percent of a shark’s body, and it is difficult to identify the species from only a fin, so other scientific techniques must be applied.
After conducting DNA sequencing on the 548 samples, Chen said researchers were able to identify 20 species — of which 19 are listed as “near threatened” or “vulnerable” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened or Near Threatened Species.
Moreover, four species were listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as species that are not threatened with extinction at the moment, but might become so unless trade in them is strictly regulated, he said.
Oceana Lin (林愛龍), CEO and chief lobbyist of Oceanus Honors Gaia (OCEANUS), Taiwan, said the Fisheries Agency’s statistics on shark catch reports classify only five shark species, which is insufficient for shark resource management.
The SOW and OCEANUS have suggested using a new form that would include 12 shark species that fishermen can easily identify.
Chen said that as sharks are at the top of the oceanic food chain, the extinction of shark species may lead to the destruction of the marine ecology, so the Fisheries Agency should work toward banning all shark fishing.
The SOW said their survey result was recognized and published by open access peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE on Tuesday.
In response to the survey, the Fisheries Agency said it enacted a series of proactive policies for shark management last year, including banning fishing vessels from bring shark parts to land without the whole body, to prevent the killing of sharks only for their fins.
The policies also included allowing shark fin imports only from fishing vessels approved by International fisheries management organizations, and requesting fishermen to report all catches of certain species of sharks.
Moreover, the agency said that among the five species of sharks listed in the Appendix II of the CITES in March, catching the oceanic whitetip shark is already banned in Taiwan, and the agency will work toward banning the export of the other four species.
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