Sharks dying to go into fisherman's nets, says mainland aquatics product rep

Most sharks caught by mainland fishermen had swum into nets by accident, claims industry spokesman

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2012, 4:35am


China's aquatics product industry is taking on ex-basketball star Yao Ming in defence of the trade in shark fins.

A campaign against the practice of eating shark fin, run by Los Angeles-based WildAid and featuring Yao and other famous athletes, has been distributed widely on the mainland in recent years and has been gaining growing support - including a recent proposal announced by a State Council office to ban the traditional delicacy from official banquets in three years.

But Cui He , deputy director of the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Association, said yesterday claims that consuming shark fin could cause the extinction of the species were unfair. He said most sharks caught by Chinese fishermen had swum into nets by accident and only a few mainland ships actually targeted sharks.

"These sharks are a windfall for fishermen and it's inevitable as long as there is a fishing industry," Cui said.

When the sharks are dragged onboard, most are dead due to suffocation or injuries, he said. "For those dead sharks, not taking advantage of them is an enormous waste," he said.

However, Cui did admit that "small numbers" of boats fish for sharks using baited lines in the open ocean.

He said China is not a major fisher of sharks, with annual catches of around 10,000 tonnes, far less than top 10 countries such as the US and Spain, which caught 50,000 tonnes a year.

Every year an estimated 26 million to 73 million sharks are caught around the world just to have their fins cut off, according to WildAid, citing a 2006 publication by a British scientist Shelley Clarke. WildAid's Beijing office said Cui's comment reversed the logic and it was the huge profits from the shark fin trade that had driven fishermen to step up fishing activities.

Zhang Xingsheng , from the Washington-based environmental organisation The Nature Conservancy, said on a mainland microblogging site yesterday that 95 per cent of shark fins harvested across the globe were sold to mainland consumers.

"If a tobacco association said smoking is good for your heath, will you recognise it?" he said in response to Cui's comment.

Cui said he had encountered WildAid's campaign several years ago and had ignored it. But he said he now needed to justify his industry because many countries and regions were banning the shark fin trade and the central government was planning to ban shark fin from business banquets.

"Fishermen have spent a lot of labour in fishing sharks and processing fins. The ban will hurt their income," he said. "Some aquatic enterprises have urged us to speak out." He said he did not understand why people only boycotted shark fin and not all products derived from sharks.