A TRAFFIC study released today has identified the world’s top 20 shark and ray catchers and traders, who collectively
account for some 80% of global reported catch averaged by year between 2007–2017.
Commercial and artisanal vessels from Indonesia, Spain, India, Mexico, and the United States topped the list of catchers
during the studied time period, with a combined total of 333,952 metric tonnes (mt) caught on average each year.
Shark fin consumption in East Asia, traditionally eaten as a soup during celebratory occasions, is a key driver of
trade. An average of 16,177 mt per year of shark fin products (with an average value of USD294 million per year) were
reported as imported worldwide during 2000–2016.
The world’s four largest importers of shark fin accounted for 90% of average annual global imports of fins during the
same period. Hong Kong SAR was the largest, importing an average of 9,069 mt of shark fin a year over this period,
followed by Malaysia (average 2,556 mt/year), mainland China (1,868 mt/year), and Singapore (1,587 mt/year).
The main importers of shark and ray meat were Brazil, Spain, Uruguay, and Italy, which accounted for 57% of the average
global imports of shark meat over the past decade.
Sharks are particularly vulnerable to over-fishing due to their slow growth, relatively late age of maturity, and low
fecundity. Their broad distribution and migratory nature also pose increased difficulties when designing and
implementing effective measures to prevent over-exploitation.
These challenges are evident from alarming declines observed across a broad range of species. Approximately 17% of shark
and rays remain listed in the Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable categories of the IUCN’s Red List, with
a further 13% listed as Near Threatened, and 47% as Data Deficient.
Only 23% of shark and ray species are considered to be of Least Concern – the lowest proportion of all vertebrate
“Urgent measures are required to combat the over-exploitation and lack of accurate catch and trade information of sharks
and rays. As key high order predators, the continued wellbeing of these populations is essential to the overall health
of our oceans. We need the main catchers to take responsibility and put in place monitoring and management measures to
stop further declines of sharks and rays,” said Nicola Okes, co-author of the report.
The release of An overview of major shark traders, catchers, and species follows the successful listing of Longfin and Shortfin Mako Sharks in CITES1 Appendix II at the 18th Conference of the
Parties held in Geneva last month. The Proposals were accepted in response to population declines contributed to by
over-exploitation and unsustainable trade.
A number of species protected under CITES regulations are assessed in the report, including Silky Shark Carcharhinus falciformis, Mobulid rays Mobulidae, and Blue Shark Prionace glauca. In 2017 alone, over 103,528 mt of Blue Shark were reported as caught.
“We have seen a greater use of trade controls through CITES over the last decade as a response to declines in sharks and
rays being overfished for trade. We would also like to see major importers scrutinising the sustainability of the shark
and ray products they import using tools such as M-Risk
, developed by TRAFFIC. Major importers need to take responsibility for their sustainability footprint as a result of
importing products from species at high risk of overexploitation,” said Glenn Sant, TRAFFIC’s Senior Advisor on
Fisheries Trade and Traceability.
A total of 153 shark species and a further 28 taxonomic groupings of shark, ray, and chimaera species were recorded as
caught by international fisheries worldwide.
The majority of catches of sharks and rays are recorded in general shark groups and not to species level when reported
to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN).
This lack of species specificity in reporting is one of the many problems facing the conservation of sharks and rays as,
without accurate information, it hampers identifying those species in decline and whether management measures in place
to restrict catches and trade are being adhered to.
“A key obstacle to the implementation of sustainable trade is the current lack of a universal traceability mechanism so
we know how many sharks are being caught and whether those in trade are from sustainable and legal sources,” said Sant.
“Shark product traceability systems, such as the one being trialled by TRAFFIC through a project entitled SharkTrack
, alongside the amendment of WCO trade codes to include species specificity, would make significant inroads into
safeguarding sharks and rays from the current threats they face.”
1 CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora