Monday 05 February 2024 – Ahead of the 2023 Lunar New Year, WildAid has unveiled alarming findings from a comprehensive DNA analysis of shark fin products sold in Thailand that show around two-thirds (62%) of the fins sampled come from species at risk of extinction. With an urgent call to action, WildAid is urging everyone to spearhead a positive change in the new year by saying no to consuming shark products.
WildAid’s 2023 survey of 1,007 urban Thais, conducted independently by Rapid Asia, reveals that shark fin is commonly consumed at restaurants with family (60%), weddings (57%), and with friends at restaurants (46%). Lunar New Year family gatherings contribute to 42% of consumption. Reducing shark fin soup, particularly during celebrations, can significantly curb overall consumption.
The latest consumer survey reveals a significant 27.5% decrease in shark fin consumption among urban Thais over the past six years. Since the launch of WildAid’s #NoSharkFin or “Chalong Mai Chalarm” campaign in 2017, there’s been a remarkable 47% reduction in those consuming shark fin 2-5 times annually. However, with more than half (56%) of urban Thais still intending to consume shark fin in the future, it underscores Thailand’s ongoing presence as an active market for shark fin consumption.
“WildAid’s survey shows that a significant number of urban Thais still consider shark fin consumption normal. To put it in perspective, it is no different from us consuming tigers or even tiger cubs, which are another species crucial to maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. Our consumption habits play a role in the fate of several shark species and impact the balance of the ocean’s ecosystem. We can all take the first step beginning this Lunar New Year gathering by inviting everyone in the family to say no to shark fin.” said Dr Petch Manopawitr, a conservation scientist and advisor to WildAid.
In collaboration with a team of researchers including those from Thailand’s King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL) and the Department of Fisheries, WildAid unveils a groundbreaking report based on a DNA analysis study of shark fin products sold in Thailand. Shockingly, 62% of the sampled fins are traced back to shark species at risk of extinction, as per the IUCN Red List. This pioneering study, the first of its kind in Thailand, identifies a minimum of 15 unique shark species from 206 fin samples. Among them, three are classified as “Critically Endangered” (CR), four as “Endangered” (EN), and six as “Vulnerable” (VU), highlighting the alarming prevalence of endangered sharks in consumer products.
“The discovery of sharks with Vulnerable to Critically Endangered status highlights the urgent need to protect these species. Many threatened species were identified through small fins, which demonstrates that further research is needed to confirm the presence of immature sharks. Young sharks play a crucial role in the recovery of shark populations, and finding them within the trade is concerning.” said Dr Wanlada Klangnurak, lead researcher and lecturer at the Department of Animal Production Technology and Fishery, Faculty of Agricultural Technology, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang.
Globally, one-third of all shark and ray species are at risk of extinction as a result of overfishing and bycatch. Thailand plays a significant role in the global shark fin trade as one of the major exporters of low-value, processed shark fins, according to the 2015 FAO Report.
The DNA study also revealed a striking 34% of identifiable fins originate from sharks never recorded in Thai waters. This finding underscores the heavy reliance on external sources for fins traded in Thai markets, suggesting significant imports to meet local demand and potential re-export activities.
“The study underscores Thailand’s significant role in the global shark fin trade, aligning with previous reports. While there has been a notable decrease in the practice of finning sharks and discarding their bodies at sea in Southeast Asia-as the fins are commonly sourced from sharks that were landed whole after being caught in industrial fishing gear-we cannot ignore the damage and impact that the shark fin industry has inflicted on global shark populations, and the fact that conservation efforts need to be strengthened to ensure the survival of many threatened species worldwide.” said Sirachai Arunrugstichai, a marine scientist, photojournalist, and researcher of this recent study.
“The Department of Fisheries is committed to conserving sharks through the National Plan of Actions for Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA-Sharks). Working with stakeholders, the plan aims to improve the monitoring of shark fin and product trade. The department is dedicated to enforcing measures regulating CITES-listed shark species, ensuring sustainable use.” said Chalermchai Suwannarak, Director General, Thailand’s Department of Fisheries.
Leveraging the DNA study results, WildAid remains committed to raising awareness about the consequences of shark consumption, fostering behavioural change, and actively collaborating to advance the implementation of the National Plan of Actions for Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA-Sharks). This concerted effort aims to provide global shark populations with the opportunity to recover and flourish.