Today at Discovery News you can read how DNA determined the source populations for dried shark fins sold at a Hong Kong fish market. Some of the sharks—scalloped hammerheads— came from thousands of miles away, in ocean areas where this species is known to be endangered.
(Image: M. Shivji)
Their journey is described below by study co-author Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University's Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.
"The shark may be swimming through warm, clear waters of the Caribbean before becoming ensnared in a net," Chapman said. "It slowly suffocates in the net once entangled."
"Once the fins are sliced off the body and brought ashore, they are sun dried and sold to a fin dealer," he added. "The fin is probably mixed in with other hammerhead fins—they are sorted from the others because of their high grade—and then transported by air or ship to Asia, most likely Hong Kong."
"They probably stop in several countries along the way, making it difficult to trace them back to their geographic origin using customs records. In addition, in developing countries some fins are sold directly to industrial fishing vessels by artisanal fishermen. These industrial vessels visit many countries, buying fins as they go as a side business to what they are actually fishing for."
Just 2.2 pounds of scalloped hammerhead fins can then sell for $120 at the Hong Kong fish markets. But we may never know what ecological price is being paid. Over 73 million sharks are killed annually to supply the fin market. As Chapman concluded, "It would be a tragedy if humankind snuffs (sharks) out,
especially if for nothing more than an overpriced bowl of soup."