By Joel Lim
In his response to Graham Land’s earlier article, Mr KT Tan paints an interesting picture as he “analyses” the issue of shark finning through a cultural-imperialist lens (‘Western Hypocrisy In The Shark’s Fin Debate – Analysis’, Eurasia Review, 27 August 2014). While Tan’s argument is seemingly sound on principle, he may have stretched or misunderstood Land’s argument on multiple occasions. Most of Land’s evidence points towards Asian countries causing the high number of deaths, hence while there may be an underlying implication that only Asians are to blame, it is difficult to accept that Land is “demonizing Asians” or “dictating what Asians should or should not eat”. On a very fundamental level, Land is simply stating these points: (1) sharks are increasingly becoming more endangered, and (2) more needs to be done to prevent these numbers from rising.
Although Land’s article may lack much needed elaboration or further evidence in certain areas, it would be a misnomer to classify his claims as baseless or illogical. In fact, apart from misconstruing Land’s points, it was difficult to understand Tan’s proposition. Despite Tan’s response being well-researched, it is plagued by some of the same glaring problems he found in Land’s.
First, it is a huge leap to state that the “Global catches, exploitation rates and rebuilding options for sharks” report published in the “Marine Policy”, and in particular, the 100 million figure has no scientific basis. Anyone who has actually read the report would realize that the researchers have applied a rigorous and logical process to justify their figures. Put simply, they collated published fishing data which provided them the total yield or the weight of the sharks that are caught in a certain year and divided that total weight by the average weight of a single shark to get the 97 million figure.i
Admittedly, there were certain concessions for statistical and estimation variations, but the fact that it was not commissioned by the FAO should not detract from the integrity of the results. As Tan has highlighted, the National Science Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada funded the study – it would be imprudent to believe that these institutions would have done so if it lacked any credibility. Perhaps, all Tan read was the first two lines of the report’s abstract which he conveniently took out of context.
Secondly, shark species are increasingly at risk of extinction and becoming endangered. However, Tan would not agree since he relies on the data provided by the United Nations ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’ (CITES). CITES is a multilateral treaty “to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival”ii. It is a political trade organization which is more concerned with trade restrictions. In a sense, CITES is arguably not the true scientific authority on this point. Using CITES to determine which species are endangered would be like using the Forbes Billionaires List to determine the world’s most profitable companies – it may be a good indicator, but it is not necessarily the most accurate or relevant source.
Hence, it would be preferable to rely on the figures provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This union has “11,000 experts setting global standards in their fields, for example, the definitive international standard for species extinction risk.”iii Specifically, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group is the world’s foremost scientific authority on the status of shark populations, and applies “a scientifically rigorous approach to determine risks of extinction that is applicable to all species, has become a world standard”iv. A quick look on the IUCN red list would show that there are 74 species of sharks which are threatened.v
Lastly, Tan claims that demand reduction is ineffective since “one the biggest killers of sharks are the industrial-scale longline fisheries”. Again, if Tan had read the article published in the “Marine Policy”, he would realize that sharks caught by pelagic longlines only represent about 52% of all sharks caught, of which, about 25% are released back into the sea. Effectively, longline fishing only account for roughly 40% of all sharks caught and finned.vi More....