Cablegate: Campaign Against Shark Fin Trade Targets Public

Published: Fri 21 Oct 2005 09:31 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: 04 QUITO 2923
1. Summary: On October 17 Environmental NGOs initiated a new
campaign to conserve the dwindling shark population in
Ecuadorian waters. Sharks are highly sought after for the
price their fins bring on international markets. Lax
enforcement has hampered efforts to reduce shark fishing,
despite an October 2004 Presidential decree banning the sale
or export of shark fins. The campaign, which includes
television spots with Ecuadorian soccer players, is an
effort to pressure the GOE into action. End Summary.
2. Backed by the star power of Ecuador's top soccer players,
environmental groups renewed their efforts to conserve
Ecuadorian shark populations by initiating a new campaign on
October 17. The objective of the campaign, lead by the NGO
WildAid, is to associate Ecuadorian's emotions and pride in
their soccer idols with the plight of sharks. The idea is
to build widespread public pressure to force the GOE into
protecting the shark populations.
3. The central message in the campaign's six different 20-
second television advertisements is "as soccer united us,
unite today on behalf of sharks." The television campaign,
which shows graphic images of shark fin extraction, will be
followed up with a series of exhibitions and concerts in a
number of Ecuadorian cities. Campaign organizers will
circulate petitions during these public events that
encourage the GOE to design a national plan to oversee the
fishing sector and monitor shark populations.
4. Campaign organizers face an uphill battle to stop the
shark fin trade. The incentive to fish sharks originates in
China, where shark fins are considered a delicacy. Demand
is high for shark fin soup which, with its alleged
aphrodisiac qualities, is considered a necessity at any
wedding. It is estimated that the market for shark fins
more than tripled from 1980 to 2000, reaching almost 12,000
tons. The market in Hong Kong continues to grow 5% per
5. The demand for shark fins sends Chinese buyers to
Ecuador, among other countries, ultimately resulting in
declines in shark populations. Press releases associated
with the campaign note that in the North Atlantic, for
example, populations for different shark species have
dropped 60-90% over the last 20 years. From 1997 to 2003,
official Ecuadorian shark fin exports to China and Hong Kong
were 850 tons, which represents 1.7 million sharks. Given
the large illegal export of shark fins in Ecuador, real
figures are much higher.
6. Galapagos fishermen have long relied on sea cucumbers for
a majority of their income. However, Ecuadorian sea
cucumber populations are declining -- they are commercially
extinct on the coast and nearly so in the Galapagos, where
the overall catch fell by 75% from 2002 to 2004. As a
result, fishermen in Ecuador are turning more and more to
the shark fin trade for high-value catch. Chinese
businessmen encourage the practice, providing loans to
fishermen to invest in better equipment that will increase
their catch. Members of the Galapagos fishing communities
have acknowledged to Econoff the important role that
visiting Chinese businessmen play in financing and
encouraging the shark fin trade.
7. The October 2004 Presidential decree banning the export
and internal sale of shark fins was an important step in
developing a regulatory regime to stop the shark fin trade
(reftel). However, the GOE has expended little effort in
enforcing the ban. Even when arrests are made, judicial
follow-up is almost non-existent.
8. For example, in June 2005 a fishing boat was discovered
during a shark fin operation that already collected fins
from 30,000 sharks. While government officials have pointed
to this case to demonstrate active enforcement of the ban,
the facts to not support them. To begin with, the boat was
only boarded because government officials thought that it
was involved in narco-trafficking. Moreover, no action was
taken against involved parties until a month later, when
public pressure and attention from the press led to the
arrests of the boat captain and a customs official who were
involved in the scheme. Activists remain concerned that the
case may die in the judicial system.
9. As a result of weak enforcement, fishermen show little
concern for being caught engaged in illegal fishing. In
September 2005, for example, two tour guide associations
went public with evidence indicating that crew members of a
tourist boat were illegally fishing for sharks in the
Galapagos. Many in the Galapagos acknowledge that this
practice is not uncommon. An accusation has been brought to
the prosecutor by the Galapagos National Park (GNP), but
little follow-up has occurred. If anyone is found guilty,
it likely will be the ship staff. Tour operators,
responsible for the boat's operations, are unlikely to be
10. Despite the involvement of high-profile soccer players,
nothing concrete is likely to come of this campaign against
the shark fin trade in the short-term. Economic incentives
in the shark fin trade are too strong. Nonetheless, by
targeting the general public, the campaign will help develop
a long-term appreciation and concern for conservation.
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