Shark population in Malaysia continues to decline due to ongoing demand for fins

Shark population in Malaysia continues to decline due to ongoing demand for fins
Cruel fate: Chong holding a shark without its fins at a market in Sabah.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

KOTA KINABALU - Demand for shark's fin soup continues to drive shark population to drastic decline, especially the scalloped hammerhead species.

Species of some sharks sighted in Sabah such as the scalloped hammerhead - which is listed on the International Union for Conser­vation of Nature's Red List as "endangered" - have had their population decline by up to 90 per cent in some areas, said a conservationist.

Hammerhead shark's fins are more highly valued than other species because of their high fin ray count, leading to increased targeting of this species in some areas worldwide, including Sabah waters.

It is still common to see sharks sold at markets in the state, said WWF-Malaysia Marine Conserva­tion head Dr Robecca Jumin.

"Efforts in Sabah and elsewhere in Malaysia have had positive impact on getting some consumers to stop ordering shark's fin soup - as well as getting some hotels and restaurants to take it off the menu.

"However, this does not mean that our work is done - the reality is that demand still exists, and is still driving the trade in shark fin," she said.

Sabah Shark Protection Associa­tion (SSPA) chairman Aderick Chong said shark's fin itself does not have nutritional value and could potentially be harmful to consumers due to bioaccumulation of toxins such as mercury, when consumed in large amounts over a certain period.

Bioaccumulation is the build-up of substances in an animal's body, which occurs when the animal takes in the substance at a rate faster than it can get rid of it.

Large marine predatory species such as sharks often build up levels of mercury in their bodies - which is toxic and harmful to humans.

"We are at a point where there is no choice but to stop consuming shark's fin soup and other shark-related food.

"If prestige or social norm is the reason for serving shark's fin soup at events such as weddings, there are options such as the non-endangered empurau which is also a highly prized fish," he said.

It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed worldwide each year - with reports of 73 million of these caught specifically for shark's fin soup.

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