2013: A worker collects pieces of shark fins dried on the rooftop of a factory building in Hong Kong

2013: A worker collects pieces of shark fins dried on the rooftop of a factory building in Hong Kong A new study found twelve species for sale that are banned from international trade under CITES, including whale shark fins.
Photo Credit: (Kin Cheung/Associated Press

U Guelph study finds majority of shark fins, ray gills from species at risk

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A study of shark fins and ray gill plates for sale in markets has shown that a majority are from endangered species.

The University of Guelph used its unique DNA library to identify exactly the various species.

Dirk Steinke is an adjunct professor in the Department of Integrated Biology at Guelph University in Ontario, and associate-director for research coordination at the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics.

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Professor Dirk Steinke (PhD) Uinversity of Guelph
Professor Dirk Steinke (PhD) Uinversity of Guelph © U Guelph

For this study, researchers in collaboration with the Guy Harvey Research Institute and Save Our Seas Shark Research Centre at Nova Southeastern University in Florida collected 129 market samples in Canada, China and Sri Lanka representing 20 shark and ray species.

They found that 71 per cent of dried fins and gills collected from markets and stores came from species listed as at-risk.

They discovered that 12 of those species, including whale sharks, are listed as protected and illegal to trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This means they are banned from international trade, and as such should not be for sale anywhere.

A whale shark is seen in the Galapagos Islands in September 2012. The whale shark, listed as vulnerable since 2003, is among the several at-risk shark species found among 71 dried shark fins obtained at stores and markets in Vancouver and tested in a new study.
A whale shark is seen in the Galapagos Islands in September 2012. The whale shark, listed as vulnerable since 2003, is among the several at-risk shark species found among 71 dried shark fins obtained at stores and markets in Vancouver and tested in a new study. © (Jonathan Green/Galapagos National Park/Reuters

Shark fins are usually used for making of shark fin soup, a status symbol in Chinese communities, and ray gill plates are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Shark fins are traditionally made into soup that is served as an expensive delicacy and status symbol - it can cost more than $100 per bowl - at Chinese banquets for special occasions such as weddings.
Shark fins are traditionally made into soup that is served as an expensive delicacy and status symbol – it can cost more than $100 per bowl – at Chinese banquets for special occasions such as weddings. © Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Professor Steinke says the Guelph University DNA barcode data base gives agencies a new tool for enforcement of conservation rules as it ensures identification of species using DNA.  “It’s an area that until now has been hard to enforce because shark fins are dried and processed before they are sold, making it difficult to identify the species”.

In this Oct. 18, 2011 photo, manta ray swims in the water, off Raja Ampat islands, Indonesia. Manta and mobula ray gill rakers, thin filaments that the animals use to filter food from the water, are used in traditional Chinese medicine. (Herman Harsoyo/Associated Pres
In this Oct. 18, 2011 photo, manta ray swims in the water, off Raja Ampat islands, Indonesia. Manta and mobula ray gill rakers, thin filaments that the animals use to filter food from the water, are used in traditional Chinese medicine. © Herman Harsoyo/Associated Press

Shark finning, or removing fins from live sharks, is illegal in Canada. Importing shark fins for sale is also illegal for species at-risk.

Professor Steinke points out that Canada is one of the world’s largest importers of shark fins outside of Asia itself.

This latest study was published in the journal Scientific Reports under the title “DNA analysis of traded shark fins and mobulid gill plates reveals a high proportion of species of conservation concern”   (open access full text HERE)

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