Chips are down for South Africa’s sharks

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A new study shows that inadequate regulatory controls and increased targeting of sharks in South African waters could make certain species vulnerable to over-harvesting.

The report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network — a joint programme of WWF and IUCN-The World Conservation Union — found that South African exports of shark products to Australia totalled 37 tonnes; the combined Australian import figure was almost 148 tonnes, a discrepancy of more than 100 tonnes.

“Too little is recorded about the level of trade in sharks between the two countries,” said Markus Bürgener, a Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa and a co-author of the report.

“We found wide discrepancies in the import and export data. We simply don’t know if the current fishing levels are sustainable.”

Demersal, or bottom-dwelling, sharks are mainly caught as by-catch in South Africa. Processed fillets are exported to Australia to meet the high consumer demand in the fish-and-chip trade. The trade is concentrated on five shark species — smooth-hound, tope, copper, dusky and white-spotted smooth-hound.

Currently there are no catch limits on any of these species in South African waters.

“Another problem is that customs officers aren’t experts in identifying the species being traded, so this information simply isn’t recorded,” added Charlene Da Silva of South Africa’s Rhodes University, the other co-author of the report

“This is compounded because a lot of the processing takes place at sea, and it’s even harder to identify processed shark fillets. It’s vital to know this for monitoring the trade in individual species.”

Da Silva has developed a shark identification toolkit which the report recommends is distributed to all relevant compliance officials where demersal sharks are exploited.

Other report recommendations include a call for research into demersal shark stocks in South African waters, closer monitoring of the processing and export of demersal sharks, and an investigation into the wide discrepancies between import and export data on sharks between the two countries.

In Australia, TRAFFIC has written to the government, calling on it to improve its recording of imported seafoods and apply a sustainability test on imports.

“Australia prides itself on management of the sustainability of shark catches within Australian waters, but limited consideration is given to recording the volume and sustainability of imported seafood products,” said Glenn Sant, Global Marine Programme Leader from TRAFFIC, based in Australia.

“We want countries worldwide to record the trade in shark products properly and apply the equivalent tests of sustainability on imported products that apply to fishers within their own waters.”

Source: WWF
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