Sharks 'not yet going extinct'

Campaigns to stop shark's-fin consumption, have exaggerated the perception that sharks are going the way of the dodo, experts said yesterday.

Dr Giam Choo-Hoo, the Singapore representative on the United Nations' Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), said that, with over 400 species of sharks, it is incorrect to say that they are endangered.

"It is akin to saying birds are endangered," he said.

Under Cites, only one species of shark - the sawfish - is "threatened with extinction", he said at a seminar on shark's fins organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

In fact, Dr Giam believes that the demand for sharks' fin will benefit fishermen in developing countries, which net 70 per cent of the global shark catch, out of which 80 per cent are accidental catches.

"The fishermen are too poor and hungry to throw away the meat and retain only the fins," he said, adding that even if people stop eating shark's fins, fishermen globally would still continue catching sharks for their meat.

Two other speakers from non-profit organisations - Mr Hank Jenkins, president of Species Management Specialist, and Professor Steve Oakley, chairman of Shark Savers Malaysia - agreed.

Prof Oakley noted that sharks had long been harvested for their meat in Europe and Australia before the surge in demand for shark's fins.

"Should Singaporeans eat shark's-fin soup? The simple answer is no, but the complex answer is yes, if the fin is from a certified sustainable source."

But Mr Louis Ng, executive director of Animal Concerns Research & Education Society, said the current system of shark fishing is not sustainable.

"Ultimately, we're going to wipe out the shark population... Some studies have already shown that the marine ecosystem has collapsed."

Mr Ng feels that a temporary ban on the consumption of shark's fin and meat is necessary to "give the industry some time to change".

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