Asian nations impede efforts to protect dwindling shark species

Populations of the scalloped hammerhead and other sharks have dropped by as much as 85 percent. Populations of the scalloped hammerhead and other sharks have dropped by as much as 85 percent. (Ho/AFP/Getty Images)
Associated Press / March 24, 2010

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DOHA, Qatar — Asian nations yesterday blocked US-backed proposals to protect the heavily fished hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks on concerns that regulating the booming trade in fins could hurt poor nations.

A committee at the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, however, approved regulating the trade in the porbeagle shark, which is prized mostly by Europe for its high-valued meat. Controls on the spiny dogfish shark, a key ingredient in fish and chips in Europe, however, were defeated because opponents felt stocks were recovering in many regions.

Japan, which successfully campaigned against an export ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna and regulations on the coral trade, led the opposition to the hammerhead and oceanic whitetip shark proposal at CITES. They didn’t speak on the porbeagle.

The hammerhead and whitetip sharks are heavily fished for their prized fins, with the carcasses often discarded.

China, Indonesia, and other nations that benefit from the trade in shark fins joined the opposition to the proposals, arguing that restrictions were not the answer and would be difficult to apply.

“This is not about trade issues but fisheries enforcement,’’ Masanori Miyahara, chief counselor of the Fisheries Agency of Japan, told delegates. “Poaching is a big problem.’’

But the United States, supported by Europe, Australia, and many Arab countries, argued that the unregulated trade has led to widespread illegal fishing and has caused the populations of the endangered scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, and the threatened smooth hammerhead to plummet by as much as 85 percent.