New TRAFFIC Studies Point to Common Problem Behind Turtle, Shark Fin, and Tuna Trade | WWF

New TRAFFIC Studies Point to Common Problem Behind Turtle, Shark Fin, and Tuna Trade

Posted on 29 February 2012    
Grey reef sharks are among the numerous marine species found throughout Fiji's Great Sea Reef.
© WWF / Cat Holloway
Three studies by TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade programme of WWF and IUCN) on the trade in shark fins; marine turtles and related products, i.e. eggs and shells; and several tuna species from Coral Triangle countries have been recently finalized, and the findings point to a common, central problem of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. What’s the story?

A common thread
The trade in shark fins, marine turtles and tuna are very different, but the surveys reveal common threads that weave through all of them. Aspects that are common to all these different legal and illegal trade regimes include poor availability of trade and fisheries data, low enforcement on complying with licensing and reporting regulations, and high incentives to use illegal capture methods. In summary, a lot of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing underlies these trades (save for the trade of marine turtles which is considered illegal by any means, but nonetheless a result of IUU in other fisheries).

Relatively cheap and fast improvements to address the problem
There are fortunately a couple of characteristics that make these trades succeptible to significant and relatively cheap and fast improvements. As WWF prepares the release of these reports and findings, it is already obvious that the likelihood of addressing the IUU in these trade regimes hinges on the willingness of players involved. And that’s where things get difficult.

This highlight provides a few early glimpses into these reports.

The deal with sharks
Two of the top 10 shark catching countries in the world, Indonesia and Malaysia, are found in the Coral Triangle and sharks are known to be taken as a target species and/or as by-catch in other Coral Triangle countries. Table 1 gives the management and data reporting environment for sharks in the Coral Triangle, and while all Coral Triangle countries have signed up to comply with management and reporting of sharks, one of the main TRAFFIC report findings was that data is hard to find, incomplete, and in all countries it was evaluated to be insufficient to support management of shark fisheries. WWF plans to highlight the problem soon to relevant authorities as a first step.

(Table 1 is downloadable in PDF format)

Marine turtles, still wanted

This study draws attention to the Coral Triangle as being the target region for poaching marine turtles, and the scale of trade places significant pressure on marine turtle populations in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion.

TRAFFIC found that marine turtle shells remains a much sought-after commodity, as well as turtle meat and whole specimens in China and Japan. As a result, hawksbill turtles and other turtle species are under heavy exploitation pressure. Evidence from recent seizure records and market surveys highlight a consistent illegal trade route to China from the Coral Triangle region of South-east Asia (mainly the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia). TRAFFIC’s analyses included 128 seizures involving the East Asian countries between 2000 and 2008, with a trade volume of over 9,180 marine turtle products including whole specimens (2,062 turtles), crafted products and raw shell.

There are significant contrasts between the markets of China and Japan, based on consumer demand, commodity value, trade volume and even product-type. However, the source of marine turtle was similar in China and Japan with nationals from both countries involved in seizures of marine turtles sourced from countries in South-east Asia. Poaching by foreign vessels in the territorial waters of neighbouring countries is a serious conservation problem. Equally, profit-seeking subsistence fishermen are often exploited by their own countrymen. The scale of trade across China and the motivation of Chinese nationals to harvest in foreign and international waters, clearly implicate China as one of the major players in this global trade. TRAFFIC is currently working in China with authorities to see how this trade can be addressed.

Going forward
WWF is using results from these studies to design new strategies to stop the consumption of protected and endangered species in non-Coral Triangle countries, and to reduce consumption of species that are over-exploited. The information also supports recommendations to Coral Triangle governments to improve the monitoring of trade of these products, the regulation of the fisheries on these species, and stepping up enforcement to stop their illegal capture.

Grey reef sharks are among the numerous marine species found throughout Fiji's Great Sea Reef.
© WWF / Cat Holloway Enlarge

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