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World Fin Trade Industry Estimated to Harvest 23 to 73 Million Sharks per Year; 'Real Data'

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MIAMI, Florida -- The first real-data study of sharks harvested for their valuable fins estimates as few as 26 million and as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year worldwide—three times higher than was reported originally by the United Nations, according to a paper published as the cover story in the October 2006 edition of Ecology Letters.

“The shark fin trade is notoriously secretive. But we were able tap into fin auction records and convert from fin sizes and weights to whole shark equivalents to get a good handle on the actual numbers,” says lead author Shelley Clarke, Ph.D, an American fisheries scientist based in Hong Kong and Japan.

A team of researchers calculated the number of sharks represented in the fin trade using a unique statistical model and data from Hong Kong traders. When the figures were converted to shark weight, the total is three to four times higher than shark catch figures reported to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

“Without any real data, numbers as high as 100 million had been floating around for a while, but we had no way of knowing whether or not this was accurate,” says Ellen Pikitch, Ph.D., co-author and executive director of the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science. “This paper, which produces the first estimate based on real data, shows that the actual number of sharks killed is indeed very high but is more likely to be in the order of tens of millions, with a median estimate of 38 million sharks killed annually.”

Concern about the shark finning trade has grown over the past few years as demand has surged beyond sustainable levels for slow-to-produce shark populations and without regulation in most countries. Three shark species are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), and 20 percent are threatened with extinction according to the 2006 Red List of Threatened Species.

Used in shark fin soup, a delicacy served at Chinese weddings and other celebrations for centuries and more recently at business dinners in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim, fins are the most valuable part of the shark, which typically are sliced off as the shark, sometimes still alive, is thrown back into the ocean. The shark fin trade appears to be keeping pace with the growing demand for seafood—up five percent per year in mainland China.

Determining whether shark populations can continue to withstand the magnitude of catches estimated by Clarke and her team depends upon the size and status of each population.

“One of the most productive sharks is the blue shark, and it appears that the catch rate is near the maximum sustainable level,” says Clarke. “But such assessments were not available for other, less productive shark species. It is quite likely that sustainable catch levels have already been exceeded in some cases.”

The United Nations FAO compiles catch records for sharks and other fish, based on information submitted from member countries. Where possible, the FAO attempts to verify the accuracy of the figures, but verification often is not practical. Many sharks may be recorded as unidentified fish and thus not be recognizable as sharks in the FAO records.

“Due to the low value of shark meat in many markets, shark fins may be the only part of the shark retained, and often these fins are not recorded in the catch log or when landed at ports. I knew we had to somehow access the major markets if we were to accurately estimate the number of sharks killed,” says Pikitch, who initiated the project.

The mission of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science is to advance ocean conservation through science. Established in by a generous multi-year grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts; the Pew Institute for Ocean Science is a major program of the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

6 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

hi just researching your site for our local newspaper as we found that one of our local chinese restaurants sells shark fin soup. We are going to get it taken off the menu if it kills us! We are currently checking out all the local menus for fin soup and we'll keep you posted with what happens when the article is printed in two weeks time. We feel strongly about all aspects of frank disrespect that is currently being shown to our oceans. Terry and I are set to travel around schools creating awareness and raising money for project aware with our new company Aquateach Ltd. thanks Amy and Terry
   comment# 1   - Amy Oxtoby and Terry Nichols (PADI MSDT's) · Rutland, United Kingdom · Jan 8, 2007 @ 7:55am

i really hate the shark fining industy i mean there was really no point in it. every thing is made for a reason and its not for us to just go and kill just imagin if you were swimming and someone has dragged you out of the water cut of your limbs and throughn you back to bleed to death, suffercate and die Sharks can take hours or even days to die after being finned just imagine if that was you. sharks are a critical part of our marine ecosystems and it just isn't fare sorry for the incorret spelling i'm only in grade 6 so save the sharks.
   comment# 2   - mei griffin · VIC. australia · May 23, 2008 @ 11:09pm

im hungy
   comment# 3   - chad · montana · Jan 27, 2009 @ 9:27am

HI I just watched the movie sharkwater and started looking up shark finning and trying to find out if it isnt banned in canada cause its seriously stupid and by killing the sharks we distrupt the natural balance of the ocean's ecosystem by killing sharks.If u want to hear more about this and other cool facts watch sharkwater (its a movie).If i spelt something wrong... well give me a break im in grade 8
   comment# 4   - matthew sousa · ontario, canada · Feb 13, 2009 @ 10:30am

I know that most people probably think that sharks are blood-thirsty man eaters. YOU ARE WRONG!!! In fact over one-hundred million sharks were killed last year only by fining so I would think we are the man eaters; well I guess it would technically be shark eaters because they put the fins in soup or stew. Shark fining is when people illegally or rarely legally capture sharks cut of their fins and throw them in the water to die. They die because sharks have to swim to breathe and without fins they can’t move so they can’t breathe. Now compare that one-hundred million sharks killed last year to the average 5-15 fatal shark attacks per year. Since 1975 there have only been a little over 100 shark attacks and very few were proved fatal and the average amount of sharks killed per year ranges from fifty million to one-hundred million. Add another 359,000 sharks killed just by fishing each year. If this keeps up sharks will become extinct! And when a human is even just bitten a squad of men is sent to kill any of the sharks that even resemble the one that bit the person. When a human is hurt does the other one that hurt him/her get hunted down and then brutally murdered? No, so why do humans do it to sharks?
   comment# 5   - jordan · grand rapids michigan · May 5, 2009 @ 10:55am

Here are some suggestions on ways you can fight the shark finning industry: 1) Use the Yelp website ( to search for restaurants that serve shark fin soup. Although a consumer will have had to comment about the dish, it is a step forward in locating these restaurants around the country. 2) Contact Serda at the Animal Welfare Institute ( letting them know which restaurants in your area serve shark fin soup. AWI will then add the restaurants to their national list. 3) Write to restaurants, supermarkets, and vitamin/supplement companies that have shark products expressing your concerns. There's a good template letter here: ( 4) Make your own "Save the Sharks" signs, flyers, shirts, stickers, posters, business cards, stencils, etc. Public awareness of this issue is essential to improving shark conservation worldwide. 5) Contact newspapers, magazines, news stations, and other media educating them on the issues facing sharks. 6) Contact your Senator and Congress-person letting them know you support laws protecting sharks. Power to the People! Bodhi
   comment# 6   - Bodhi · Southern California · Sep 16, 2009 @ 4:50pm
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