Environmentalists Warn of Shark Troubles

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 9, 2006; 7:24 PM

BEIJING -- Many species of shark are facing a serious threat to their existence because of worldwide fishing trends, environmentalists said Wednesday.

Fishermen "used to cut the lines and let sharks go," said Pete Kinghts, executive director of WildAid, a San Francisco-based conservation group, told a shark conservation conference. In recent years, however, fishermen have kept the sharks to sell their lucrative fins.

One-third of the more than 500 shark species are threatened with extinction or are close to being threatened, said Sarah Fowler of the World Conservation Union.

"Fisheries can remove 50 to 90 percent of an entire shark (species) in only 10 years," said Fowler, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Fowler told The Associated Press later that the projections were based on an ongoing study by the Conservation Union's shark research group.

She and other experts at the conference said governments and non-governmental organizations must work together to educate the public and fishermen about overfishing.

WildAid, which co-sponsored the conference, persuaded NBA star Yao Ming in August to pledge to give up eating shark's fin soup, a Chinese delicacy, as part of a campaign to promote wildlife protection in his homeland.

WildAid says China is the world's biggest importer of shark's fins, which conservationists say are cut from sharks that are thrown back into the ocean to die. WildAid put the worldwide trade in shark's fins at 10,000 tons a year.

Fowler estimated that 38 to 70 million sharks are killed each year for their fins.

"It is difficult to change people's dining habits, but we can educate and engage the public to achieve sustainable development of the sharks and people's dining culture," Li Yanliang, deputy general director of Agriculture Ministry's Aquatic Wild Fauna and Flora Administrative Office, told the conference.

Knights said that as the Chinese economy has grown, shark fin consumption has risen, exacerbating pressures on shark populations that were already vulnerable to overfishing because they breed so slowly.

© 2006 The Associated Press