Even with decreased declines in demand for shark fins, the global trade in shark and ray meat is on the rise. The global market for meat is greatly underestimated, and far more diverse and widespread than that for fins. Fins are considered luxury items, while meat is often an important source of protein in many countries throughout the world.
Beyond the two major global commodities of fins and meat are the smaller yet still significant markets for mobulid gill plates, liver oil (primarily from deepwater species), and freshwater stingrays. The gill plate trade, centered in Guangzhou, China, has stimulated intensive fishing for manta and devil rays in numerous countries. Shark liver oil – primarily from deep-sea species and marketed as “squalene” – is used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. South American freshwater stingrays are captured to supply an international ornamental trade and captive-breeding facilities. The gill plate market in Guangzhou, in particular, needs urgent, carefully targeted action; as it is highly unlikely that a sustainable source of these gill plates could ever be found, elimination of this market is likely to be the most responsible action for these species.
The demand for (largely unsustainable) shark and ray meat, fins, squalene, manta and devil ray gill plates, and freshwater stingrays is significantly reduced in the most important global markets, while markets increasingly demand that any shark and ray products are sustainably produced and traceable.
Plan of Action
Significant reductions in demand for unsustainable shark and ray products will require a reliable supply of alternatives obtained from sustainable sources. Demand for sustainable seafood can be a powerful driving force for motivating fisheries to move towards sustainability, introduce traceability systems, and ultimately become certified. Considering that, at the time of writing, there is only one certified sustainable shark fishery operating, this is a longer-term incentive, but it is critically important for the success of the Global Strategy that markets for sustainable shark and ray products emerge. This will require an initial focus on identifying those fisheries that could potentially produce sustainable and traceable products.
The success of the Global Strategy depends on the ability to predict future events through rigorous analysis of the market forces that drive supply chains. An early warning system needs to be developed to detect and respond to emerging markets for shark and ray products.
These actions will generate deeper understanding of the ways in which demand for different shark and ray products drives the overfishing of particular species, and the ways in which responsible consumption can lead to reduced fishery mortality. Both sides of this equation are equally important for shark and ray conservation.
Conducting analyses of international shippers, to identify key routes and cargo carriers linking high-risk fisheries with key urban markets.
Conducting consumer surveys to better understand preferences for shark and ray meat.
Scaling up campaigns to encourage individuals and corporations not to purchase (unsustainable) shark and ray products.
Refining social-marketing approaches that will lead to behavioral change in individual consumers.
Working with retailers/point-of-sale providers to ensure the supply of sustainable/certified seafood products is available in core markets in the longer term.
Developing list of shark-based squalene alternatives (i.e. phytosqualene) and educating squalene consumers on the conservation implications of their consumption.
Exploring opportunities for community-based Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) for freshwater stingrays for the aquarium trade.