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Asian Demand for Shark Fins Threatening Colombian Species; 'An Extremely Urgent Matter'

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BOGOTA, Colombia -- When Colombian naval officials seized two tonnes of shark fins in a boat off the Pacific coast last week, they threw a spotlight on a huge black market serving hungry Asian markets which is blamed for pushing some species toward extinction.

Asian consumers prize the fins for use in making status-symbol soups -- and one pound (450 grams) of fin can fetch 300 dollars. Some shark-fin soups go for as much as 90 dollars a bowl in the countries where the dish is most popular: Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

The Colombian-flagged vessel was arrested 18 nautical miles from Malpelo island, a UNESCO natural world heritage site off Colombia's Pacific coastline.

It was crammed with the fins of endangered sharks including hammerheads, silkies, oceanics, white fins, black fins, fox shark and reef shark.

Authorities arrested the crew on board and impounded the boat.

Cartels led by Japanese and Colombians are said to be behind the big business of shark fins in the Colombian Pacific.

"The Asians control the routes and the markets, and they intimidate the local fishermen and distributors who are paid a pittance per kilo," about 30 dollars, said a Colombian official with the Environmental Crimes Investigation Group, who asked not to be identified.

Biologist Sandra Bessudo, who leads the independent Malpelo Foundation, told AFP the illegal fishing situation was so critical that a species believed unique to the waters around sanctuary, the sol-rayo or ragged-tooth shark (Odontaspis ferox), was in danger of dying out.

The foundation says that in 2003 alone, more than 13 tonnes of shark fins were exported to Hong Kong, the equivalent of some 67,000 dead sharks.

And an average of 350 ships -- mostly from Japan, Taiwan, Ecuador and Mexico -- fish for the prize in Colombian waters.

"There just is no doubt that the shark population has declined considerably in Colombian waters in recent years," said Andres Navia, director of the non-governmental group Squalus fighting for protection of those sharks.

"We are calling on authorities to protect those that are still alive; it is an extremely urgent matter."

Sharks are not the only groups under threat, by any stretch, in Colombia. Marlins, large turtles and mollusks also are in danger.

Julia Miranda, director of Colombia's natural parks, said that after illegal drugs, weapons trafficking and kidnapping, the unlawful trade in animal species moved the largest amount of dirty money in the South American country.

Fishing is banned in the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary, an area which sprawls over 8,575 square kilometers (3,311 square miles). The island area is also a sanctuary for birds, and a diving paradise.

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

Reader Comments

7 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

im so afraid we are going to lose such an amazing magestic animal. a balanced and carefully managed approach needs to be put in place around the world to ensure generations of sharks get the chance to reprodce before being slaughtered then atleast that would help thier survival as a spiecies. but for my own personal opinion im totaly against sharks being killed so someone can have a bowl of soup regardless whether it puts someone out of a job or not! eating for survival is one thing but to rape a spiecies like that is criminal. why do we keep heading down the same path and destoying things until there is nothing left then worry about it when its too late? we all need to do something and now! tell everyone to say, "no to sharkfin"!
   comment# 1   - Rick · Fertree Gully, Australia · May 4, 2007 @ 7:24am

Let the fisherman catch all the oceanic sharks they want! They can't be fished to extinction. There are more sharks in the world than there are humans. The great white for example is all over the world's oceans. I believe that the economics of shark fining to be an important industry. I believe that groups organized to protect sharks misrepresent facts for thier agenda. I feel it would be a great idea to do heavy shark fining off of the coast lines of Florida, Australia, and South Africa where most shark attacks transpire. The shark fining industry deserves representation.
   comment# 2   - Monte Petersen · Greenwich, CT USA · May 4, 2007 @ 12:13pm

^^^^You've got to be kidding me, you need to check your facts, posts like that can really make you look ignorant.
   comment# 3   - Willis · State usa · May 10, 2007 @ 2:26pm

Hey Monte, can I cut off your extremities for some soup ???
   comment# 4   - Da Butcher · usa · Nov 25, 2007 @ 4:21am

Ignorant doensn't even cover it.
   comment# 5   - LisaMD · Ottawa,Canada · Apr 9, 2008 @ 11:21am

In response to Monte Petersen: First off, great whites are only found in three viable populations which are located off the coast of California, off the coast of Australia, and off the coast of South Africa. The mediterranean use to have a large, and viable population, but they have all but disappeared from the area. The shark fishing has come to severely impact other fisheries. Example: Shark fisheries off the coast of North Carolina whipped out most of the large sharks causing prey species like the cownose ray to undergo population explosions. Cownose rays have decimated the scallop fishery that has operated there since the early 1700s. The world's population of sharks have been reduced by over 80% over the last 50 years. There are very few fisheries world wide that do not catch sharks, and are not considered to be overfished. This is not a misrepresented fact or an opinion. This comes strait from the UN Fisheries division. This is not disputed fact. It is people who deliberately choose to ignore what is happening in our oceans that are allowing the oceans to be wiped clean. Also, Shark fisheries in Australia and South Africa are considered to extremely overfished, and the shark fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic are considered to be collapsed. Do the world a favor, and actually read up on issues before you make such outlandish statements.
   comment# 6   - Chris · Tampa USA · May 26, 2008 @ 8:30am

It is just typical of human kind to dominate all and wipe out and destroy anything and everything that is important for the health of our planet. If something came along and hunted people, cut off both their legs and arms and through them in a feild, leaving them to be eaten alive and take days to die, could you imagine the out cry. But because people are so righteous, they seem to think they can do such an act apon other creatures and not have to be held accountable for their actions..... you have another thing coming! It is time to stand up for what is right and wrong, this is wrong so speak up!
   comment# 7   - Nic · Auckland, New Zealand · Apr 5, 2009 @ 8:41pm
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