Cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore - Archives
Wed 16 Mar 2005
Response to an email about mercury in sharks
Category : world
> From: KMY
> Not sure how accurate this is but hey if it
> "Mercury poison found in shark fins." A BBC News report of WildAid's campaign, 3rd July, 2001.
Thanks for the email.
In 2002, student volunteer Norman Lim (now doing his Master's on pangolins) volunteered to research mercury levels in sharks based on published scientific literature listed in the Science Citation Index in response to a request by Juggi Ramakrishnan.
There was enough evidence for local group ACRES (run by NUS biograd Louis Ng) to support the Wild Aid finding. ACRES subsequently ran a campaign and advertisement programme.
Craig Williams has a nice short summary about the argument against the consumption of sharks fin.
The urgency is that current consumer affluence has driven up the East Asian fin trade astronomically since 1983 (IUCN Shark Specialist Group). The significant profits from the trade (a bowl can cost US$100) has led to sharks being definned and carcasses disposed to save space on boats; so its no longer a sustainable practise and the harvest numbers are mind boggling. Global numbers are estimated to be 100 million; see also TRAFFIC's 1996 report.
US law bans harvest of fins without carcass but still, a SINGLE ship hauled up in US waters had 32 tons of fins - representing at least 30,000 sharks! A smaller haul had earlier netted them US$6 million! See "Clipping the Fin Trade." By Janet Raloff, 2002. Science News, 162 (15): 232. Well, in Singapore, "imports of dried or salted shark fin peaked in 1988 at 1,899 tonnes."
The reach of consumption is very high - in Maldives, Michael Aw saw 1.5 metre high piles of sharks fins sought out by traders for buyers in Singapore.
Singapore is the world's third largest centre for the shark fin trade after Hong Kong and Taiwan, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation. "Singapore is the second largest shark fin trading nation after Hong Kong. ... Since 1987, with the entry of China into the market, prices have increased by 100 % over the 10 years; about 10 % per annum."
Singapore's on the map alright. When I was in India, the mega-biodiversity site of the Gulf of Mannar (that faces Sri Lanka) is depleted of sea cucumbers on an unimaginable scale, threatening the ecology which has collapsed in some areas. Singapore companies are doing a brisk import-export business. The livelihood of villagers struggling to eke out a living is threatened in the long run after the traders have left.
On the Anambas Expedition in Indonesian waters, I brought along additional rupiah to buy interesting fish from fishing villages at local prices. Instead the dive teams reported widespread evidence of bombed-out reefs and the depletion of larger-szed fish stock. Large fish harvested from the reef were kept in cages for traders destined for seafood restaurants in East Asia. Their currency of choice? Singapore dollars.
Knowing how we contribute to such practises is humbling.
Sure these countries should certainly step up the legislation and enforcement and there are NGOs pushing for that. It's a slow tsunami-scale destruction for coastal communities. On the other hand, NGOs are trying to encourage consumer's to make sustainable choices. I admire their idealism and optimism in the face of such overwhelming odds.
In Thailand, the '"Bangkok Association of Shark Fin Restaurants" sued WildAid for US$2.75 million for its campaign to end public consumption of shark fin soup in 2001. The public awareness campaign was suspended for the duration of the civil case. Last August, after 3-years, the Director and Public Relations Manager of WildAid were acquitted by Thai court.
On 23rd February this year, WildAid was admitted as a member of the World Conservation Union (IUCN).