By Suzanna Pillay
FROM 2000 to 2011, Malaysians consumed an annual average of 1,384 metric tonnes (mt) of shark fin and imported 1,173mt.
According to the State of the Global Market for Shark Products Report 2015 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Malaysia is the world’s ninth largest producer of shark products and third largest importer in terms of volume It is estimated that at least 1.4 million tonnes or 100 million sharks are killed per year, mainly for their fins.
Globally, sharks are facing extinction because of the demand for their fins and other threats, such as by-catch and usage for cosmetics and health supplements. No data is available on the number of sharks killed through finning in Malaysia.
“Shark fins are the most valuable part of the shark, hence, sharks are targeted for their fins. “If the trade in sharks continues, the supply of fins will be exhausted. The decline of sharks will cut short the supply of seafood and affect human survival,” says WWF-Malaysia’s marine programme sustainable seafood manager Chitra Devi G.
“Shark conservation is a long-term initiative. We need to work with partners for a period of time before we can reverse the situation and see significant results.
“Shark finning has increased over the past decade due to the increasing demand for shark fin soup, which is worrying.
“The Fisheries Department says shark finning, which involves hacking off fins and throwing sharks back in the ocean to die, is prohibited.”
Chitra Devi says the fins of sharks caught in Malaysian waters were typically removed at the landing site. The rest of the shark is also sold by the fishermen.
“Since most of the shark species that are targeted for their fins are slow to mature and reproduce infrequently, it makes it very difficult for shark populations to recover after extreme depletions.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) says shark fishing and finning should be banned.
“It is a matter of great urgency because sharks in and around Malaysia are fast losing their battle for survival,” says SAM president S.M. Mohd Idris.
“Killing tens of millions of sharks every year means that shark populations will take a long time to recover.
“Whether caught as by-catch or as targeted species, few controls are in place to limit the harvest of sharks in Sabah and Sarawak waters and it is unclear whether the levels of extraction are sustainable for all or certain shark species.
“Protection is key to the survival of our finned friends. No change will happen without the establishment of a protection law.
“Raising awareness of the inhumane act of shark finning should also be extended to fishermen who need to be taught the importance of shark conservation and protection of the ecological system where sharks are the apex predators,” he says.
Chitra Devi says WWF Malaysia believes that public education was key to reversing the high shark-fin consumption in Malaysia.
This month, a WWF-Malaysia Asian City Shark Fin Consumer Survey 2015 revealed that consumption of shark fin soup is strongly tied to celebrations, with weddings topping the list at 85 per cent. Another key finding is that consumers are mostly Chinese — 76 per cent in Kuala Lumpur or 91 per cent in Petaling Jaya. On average, shark fin soup was consumed twice last year, mainly in restaurants.
“We believe people consume shark fin soup because it is a status symbol and the belief that it signifies the wealth and prosperity of the host. “But it is encouraging that 57 per cent of respondents say it is acceptable to replace shark fin soup with alternatives at weddings,” says Chitra Devi. “We urge Malaysians to voice their opposition to shark fin soup consumption. WWF-Malaysia is organising the My Fin My Life campaign from January to July with campaign partners Shark Savers Malaysia (SSM), Scuba Schools International (SSI), Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor Branch Marine Group, Reef Check and Sabah Shark Protection Agency.
“This campaign aims to raise awareness about the importance of sharks in maintaining balance in the marine ecosystem and keeping our seafood sustainable.
“The goal is to sensitise 20,000 restaurants to phase out shark fin soup, engage a million Malaysians to support the call for ‘no shark fin soup’ and to get 500 businesses to commit to removing shark-fin soup from their menus or when dining.
“The public can support the call for ‘no shark-fin soup’ by breaking the shark fin soup bowl at myfinmylife.com.
“In Malaysia, shark fins are gradually introduced to new market segments and not limited to the Chinese population.
“Therefore, WWF-Malaysia is educating all Malaysians that cutting short sharks’ existence will cut short our own supply of seafood and food security.
“The decline of sharks will also affect human survival in the long run, because seafood is one of our main sources of protein.”
MNS president Henry Goh says the pressure on shark numbers and fisheries, in general, is greater than ever and the ‘My Fin My Life’ campaign is to address the decline of shark populations in Malaysia.
Coordinator of MNS’ Selangor Branch Marine Special Interest Group Wong Wee Liem says shark education has been part of the branch’s annual marine awareness programme since 2003.
MNS Marine has been featuring articles on sharks in its monthly and quarterly publications, and on social media. It is also organising a shark awareness programme on Pulau Tenggol, Terengganu, in conjunction with World Oceans Day this June with SSI.
MNS marine also supports the My Fin My Life campaign’s aim of collecting a million pledges to abstain from eating shark fin soup. Wong says shark and shark fin consumption is a Malaysian problem. “Chinese Muslim restaurants serve shark’s fin. Indian cuisine also includes shark, so the focus is on understanding, so that everyone can play their part, be it bigger players like restaurants, companies and hotels, or individuals.”
SSM president Abner Yap says the results of the WWF Consumer Survey are encouraging as they show a 44 per cent decline in shark fin consumption in the past six months, and 56 per cent expect to lower their consumption in the coming 12 months.
“The decrease is driven by shark protection gaining more public concern (85 per cent), environmental concerns (65 per cent) and a change in dining culture (55 per cent).
“It is a validation of efforts by NGOs to raise awareness in this area. It shows that the campaign is effective and spurs us to achieve more.”
Source: New Straits Times 17 April 2016