BY ESTHER AU YONG
A LONELY baby nurse shark in a tiny tank caught his eye - while he was in a branch of a well-known supermarket chain. It was being sold at $13.80 per kg at a Sheng Siong outlet in the east, while two others were being sold at $12.80 per kg.
Assistant manager Tay Zhi Qi, 29, was shocked to see the sharks, as well as sea anemone and clownfish, being kept in tanks in the supermarket. He told my paper: "The shark couldn't even move as it was slightly longer than the tank it was housed in. Is the sale of a "live" shark allowed?"
Indeed, the sale of such "live" wildlife is legal in Singapore. It is "driven by consumer demand", said a Sheng Siong supermarket spokesman.
She said: "Demand from consumers led us to bring in a wide variety of seafood, including "live" and fresh shark. As a retailer which caters to the daily needs of its customers, the things that we source for and bring in are all based on serving the needs and wants of consumers.
"As long as they are legal, of good quality, are safe for consumption, and command reasonable prices, we will give due consideration." But animal-welfare and conservation groups feel that the sale of sharks should be banned. Mr Louis Ng, the executive director of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, said: "This practice should be made illegal. Sheng Siong can also take the initiative as a socially responsible corporate citizen and stop the sale of sharks."
Under the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority's (AVA) Pet Shop Licence Conditions, pet shops are not allowed to sell fish with a large territorial range in their natural habitat, such as sharks and rays, he said.
He added: "We clearly acknowledge that it is detrimental to the welfare of sharks, to keep them in small tanks in pet shops, and it should similarly apply to the small tanks at the supermarkets." Animal activists are also concerned about the survival of shark species worldwide.
Ms Amy Ho, the managing director of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, said: "Our advice to the public is to avoid consuming sharks, especially young ones, and shark products, so as not to create demand, and not to aggravate the overfishing of these species. As consumers, you can make a difference through your choices and help safeguard marine life."
Last month, WWF launched the Singapore Seafood Guide, which advises consumers on the types of seafood to eat via a "traffic-light" system: Green means "recommended", yellow stands for "eat only occasionally" and red means "avoid". All sharks are labelled red. Mr Howard Shaw, the Singapore Environmental Council's executive director, said that, generally, "all wildlife should not be kept alive in tanks in supermarkets".
"It sends a wrong signal to the public that wildlife can be taken for granted," he said. AVA spokesman Goh Shih Yong said that AVA officers have investigated the matter. He said: "As the turnover rate of food fishes is quick, the important factors to consider for short-term housing are that the water quality is good and that the fishes are able to turn around.
"The shark on display is a nurse shark. It does not need to swim constantly, unlike other types of sharks. Nevertheless, as the size of this particular shark is too large for the tank, AVA officers requested that the manager of the outlet house it in a larger tank or to return it to the supplier."
On the anemone and clownfish, which are not for sale, Mr Goh said: "The management of Sheng Siong agreed to remove them from all its outlets." Last month, four species of sharks failed to get listed under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Appendix II, despite studies showing that their numbers were plunging due to a booming fin trade in Asia and demand for their meat in Europe.
Once a species has been listed in Appendix II, exporters need special permits before they can export it, and experts will regularly assess the population of the species to determine that trade in it is not detrimental to its survival.
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