Tamil Nadu tops illegal trade in shark body parts

Fins constituted about 80% of the shark-derived products seized, according to an analysis by TRAFFIC and WWF-India

March 15, 2024 01:45 am | Updated 09:23 am IST - GUWAHATI

The analysis found that about 16,000 kg of shark fins were seized from 2010 to 2022.

The analysis found that about 16,000 kg of shark fins were seized from 2010 to 2022. | Photo Credit: AP


Tamil Nadu accounted for almost 65% of the illegal trade in shark body parts, a new analysis of seizures by TRAFFIC and WWF-India between January 2010 and December 2022 has revealed. TRAFFIC is the Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce.

The analysis found that about 16,000 kg of shark fins were seized from 2010 to 2022, constituting almost 80% of the shark-derived products. Significant volumes of shark cartilage and teeth were also seized.

The factsheet released on Thursday, titled ‘Netted in illegal wildlife trade: Sharks of India’ said Karnataka, Gujarat, Kerala, and Maharashtra follow Tamil Nadu in that order in illegal shark trade. The confiscated products, the report said, were destined for Singapore, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Sri Lanka, and mainland China.

“The demand for shark fins and meat is a major driver of global shark fishery. Shark fins are the most sought-after shark product used to make shark-fin soup a delicacy,” Merwyn Fernandes, associate director of TRAFFIC’s India office said.

“Other shark products are also in demand, albeit to a lesser extent. Shark’s meat is consumed as food, skin as leather, liver oil (squalene) as a lubricant, in cosmetics and as a source of vitamin A, cartilage for chondroitin sulphate extraction in the preparation of medicines, and jaws and teeth for making curios,” he added.

Overfishing worry

Sharks are crucial to the marine ecosystem. As top predators in the oceanic food web, sharks prey on various species, including plankton, fish, crustaceans, and marine mammals. Overfishing, coupled with low biological productivity, puts them at a higher risk of extinction when compared to most other vertebrates, the report said.

Of 160 shark species reported in India, only 26 sharks and rays have been given the highest protection status under the amended Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972 by listing them in Schedules I and II.

“Illegal shark trade is a serious conservation threat to sharks not just in India but globally. Mis-declaring relevant species on permits is one of the main ways sharks are traded illegally worldwide,” Dipankar Ghose, senior director of WWF-India’s Biodiversity Conservation said.

“The lack of capacity to identify the shark fins against numerous potential shark species in trade is a significant gap in curbing their illicit trade. Insufficient monitoring mechanisms further make it challenging to differentiate between legal and illegal trade of sharks,” he said.

Replica fins

To help law enforcement officials such as Customs identify dried and unprocessed fins, TRAFFIC has created 3D-printed and painted replica fins. Last year, these were shared with the enforcement agencies concerned in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka by TRAFFIC’s India office.

TRAFFIC has also published a new 3D Shark Fin Identification Guidebook on 11 commercially traded shark and ray species based on physical characteristics to supplement the use of the 3D shark fins.

These 11 fins are of shark and ray species listed in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The guidebook can be used independently or with 3D replica shark fins by enforcement agencies in India’s coastal regions, airports, and seaports, the report said.

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