By James Wright, SeaFood Business senior editor
10 September, 2012 - The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has tightened international trade regulations for porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus) and scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini).
The restrictions, requested for porbeagle shark by several European Union member states and for scalloped hammerheads by Costa Rica, go into effect on 25 September, 90 days after the initial request date.
According to a letter to constituents written by Angela Somma, chief of the endangered species division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, both species are now listed in Appendix III. This gives the species a special protection among CITES membership countries, or parties, that control and monitor the international trade of that species. Any CITES party may add a native species under domestic law to Appendix III unilaterally.
Under the new shark trade restrictions, porbeagle shark and scalloped hammerhead shark must have a CITES certificate of origin issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for any shipments entering or leaving the United States. Shipments must be declared and receive clearance prior to release by U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon import or prior to export.
Hammerhead sharks, in particular, are highly sought after as the main ingredient in shark fin soup, a dish with cultural significance in Asia but one that is attracting intense scrutiny from environmental organizations. The dish is known to command extravagantly high prices, as much as USD 100 per bowl. Traditionally served at important ceremonies like weddings, it has become a symbol of status, health and prosperity that is increasingly common at high-profile business events.
Pressure from environmental groups and celebrities has altered both government and shark-sourcing policies for businesses around the world.
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Singapore supermarket chain Cold Storage and Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd. (parent company of The Peninsula Hotels) have all stopped selling or serving shark fin soup, as have cargo carriers and passenger airlines.
According to a Chinese state media report earlier this summer, China was considering a temporary ban on shark fin soup at official banquets. At the recently concluded Seafood Summit, hosted by SeaWeb in Hong Kong, former National Basketball Association star Yao Ming, who played for the Houston Rockets, was recently named a Seafood Champion for his work in raising awareness about finning throughout China.
Finning is an illegal but reportedly common practice in which shark fins are lopped off the animals at sea while the rest of the body — about 95 percent of its total weight — is tossed overboard. Some groups estimate that 73 million of the fish, known as an apex predator for its crucial role in the ocean ecosystem, are rendered helpless and left to die.
U.S. laws prevent the landing of shark fins without the carcasses attached; several U.S. states have passed or have introduced legislature banning the trade of shark fins. For more about recent measures to curtail shark finning, look for the Going Green feature in the October issue of SeaFood Business.