Fishing sector faces trade off between ecology and economy

Syed Aslam July 04, 2010

KARACHI: Premium shark fin prices overseas have made Pakistan an unwitting, but willing, contributor to overfishing and ‘finning’ threatening the very existence of the shark population. Over-fishing of sharks in Pakistan is motivated primarily by the demand for shark fin soup, a thousand year old traditional Chinese delicacy, which regained popularity due to the emergence of a wealthier middle class in China.

This rising demand has provided Pakistani seafood exporters with an opportunity to export every single shark fin they can lay their hands on. Eager exporters have prompted fishermen to catch more sharks so they can have their cut of the profits of the expensive delicacy that sells for as much as 1,000 Euros per fin and up to 80 Euros per bowl of soup in Hong Kong.

According to Oceana, Pakistan was the 30th top shark fin exporter to Hong Kong in 2008. Pakistan exported almost 40,000 kilogrammes of the total 9 million kilograms of shark fins imported into Hong Kong, almost all in dried form. Hong Kong is the main port for shark fin imports from where it is transported to mainland China and Singapore.

Director General of Marine Fisheries Department Moazzam Khan said it is easy to figure out  why exporters in Pakistan have shifted their attention to sharks. “A good sized shark fin of six inches or above will sell for $100 or more in Hong Kong, which is 60 times more than the average unit price of Pakistani seafood exports of $1.94 including fish and shrimp combined” he said.

For thousands of fishermen living on the edge of poverty along the 1,050 kilometre long shore and traders, wholesalers, retailers and agents associated with the fishing business, this is the only means of subsistence. According to Khan, fish stocks have depleted at an alarming rate over the past eight years and if the trend is continues Pakistan will have little marine life to export in five years.

The director general revealed that almost 70 per cent of shark fins come from the coasts of Balochistan while up to 20 per cent are smuggled into the country from Iran. Sindh, he said, only produces ten per cent of the export.

Sky-rocketing demand for shark fin has taken a heavy toll on the shark population in the territorial sea water of Pakistan which is evident from the drastic reduction in shark landings. The decline from 10,000 metric tons in fiscal year 2006-07 to 8,489 metric tons in 2007-08 and further to 6,052 metric tons in 2008-09.

Khan claimed that shark finning does not take place in Pakistan. Finning is a practice where the dorsal fin of a living shark is cut and the fish is left to die an unnatural and painful death. “Every single shark fin exported from the country comes from a netted shark and every single kilogramme of its meat is consumed locally - usually served as finger fish available in thousands of restaurants and stalls across the country,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2010.


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