Hong Kong urged to back tougher export controls on four shark species

Over 50 countries support amendment of international convention, but most Asian members, including China, have yet to make a stance

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 7:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 9:56am

Conservationists are calling on Hong Kong authorities to support amendments to an international convention on wildlife trade, specifically proposals to tighten export scrutiny of four species of shark.

Up to 200 documents will be up for consideration at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species 17th Conference of Parties in Johannesburg, South Africa, from Saturday to October 5.

On the agenda is a proposal to add the silky shark, three types of thresher sharks and devil rays to Appendix II of the convention. Species under this appendix are not necessarily threatened by extinction but trade will have to be closely controlled through export and re-export permits to ensure it is not detrimental to their populations.

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The silky is listed as “near threatened”, while thresher sharks are “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.

Over 50 countries have expressed support for the amendment. But most Asian members, including China, where the bulk of global demand is centred, have yet to make a stance. Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department will send a two-man delegation to the conference.

“There is a very powerful international consensus and we believe there is a high possibility that it will go through,” said Hong Kong Shark Foundation executive director Apple Chow Yuen-ping.

The city is one of the world’s major shark fin trading hubs. In 2014, 5.5 million kilograms of shark fin was imported into Hong Kong, accounting for more than half of the global trade.

Because of its significant role, Chow said it would be the city’s duty, even if it was not entitled to a vote, to state a clear position.

“As such an important player, whether or not we support this direction at an international meeting will really reflect how much responsibility we want to share in the conservation of sharks. As such we would really want to know their stance.”

While mainland China is a signatory to the convention, Hong Kong, not being a sovereign state, follows Cites provisions strictly under the scope of local laws. Fins from these two species, which make up under 10 per cent of the market, and other Appendix II species can be sold and consumed legally.

Yet, thresher shark stocks have declined by 83 per cent in the Pacific over the last three generations. Stocks of silky sharks have fallen 67 per cent in the Pacific in the past 20 years, mostly as a result of becoming “by-catches” of the tuna fisheries trade.

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Chow recommended local authorities step up controls on the sale of endangered species in the market, such as requiring shark fin vendors to apply for licences that are normally only needed when dealing with live specimens.

“If our role is so huge and if we need to bear the international responsibility, shouldn’t we consider whether we need to go beyond the basic requirements of Cites?”

But the chairman of the Marine Products Association, Ricky Leung Lak-kee, who represents the local shark fin trade, argued traders were already victims of “overregulation”.

Conservationists are really pushing it to the extreme with their own ‘standards’ and unreasonable campaign proposals
Ricky Leung Lak-kee, Marine Products Association

“We don’t oppose any Cites amendments because they are international agreements and based on science and fact, that we must accept,” he said. “But conservationists are really pushing it to the extreme with their own ‘standards’ and unreasonable campaign proposals.”

Leung told the Post that for first time in years, no one from his organisation would attend the conference because “industry morale was very low”.

Thresher, a cheap type of fin, and the silky, a mid-range fin, make up only a few per cent of the market. Most fins come from the blue shark, which “breeds at extraordinary rates”, Leung said.

A department spokeswoman said the government was committed to the protection of endangered species and that parties to the convention would consider the proposals based on a set of biological and trade criteria. Import and export control, however, would remain the main tools for regulating the shark fin trade.

In the last two years, officials seized eight shipments of illegal imports of shark fins from Cites-listed species weighing about 1,500kg.