Airline stops shark shipments in recognition of extinction threat
September 05 2012 Lewis Smith
Cathay Pacific, the world’s largest air cargo carrier, to halt shipments of shark products amid concerns about overfishing.
The airline caved into pressure from a coalition of campaigners, including Fish2fork joint founder Charles Clover and the Blue Marine Foundation, who have warned that dozens of shark and ray species are facing extinction.
More than a third of sharks and rays are estimated to be threatened with extinction, including iconic species such as the hammerhead shark which has declined by 99 per cent in 30 years in some regions. The oceanic whitetip shark has declined at a similar rate in the Gulf of Mexico.
In its announcement that it is to cease carrying shark products, unless they can be demonstrated to have come from sustainable fisheries, Cathay Pacific said it recognised that there is now “compelling evidence” the animals are being overfished.
“The airline has decided to do this on the basis that there is very compelling scientific evidence to support that this is the right thing to do, given [Cathay Pacific]’s strong commitment to sustainability,” the airline said in a statement.
“Due to the vulnerable nature of sharks, their rapidly declining population and the impacts of overfishing for their parts and products, the carriage of these is inconsistent with the airline’s mission of being a socially and environmentally responsible company.”
Shark fins are a delicacy in China and other Asian countries, especially at weddings and other celebrations.
Hong Kong is one of the main centres for shark fins and is thought to account for 50 per cent of the trade. Last year, according to shark campaigners, Hong Kong imported 10,200 tonnes of shark fins, of which 13 per cent was supplied by air. Cathay Pacific was estimated by conservationists to have flown in up to 650 tonnes last year, a claim the airline insisted was inflated.
A spokeswoman for the airline said: "It would take some research to determine the exact number. More important, however, is that we used to ship it and now we're going to stop."
The decision was taken little more than a month after a letter was sent to the airline by a coalition of 40 conservation organisations demanding it stop carrying shark products.
Alex Hofford, a photographer in Hong Kong who was one of the organisers of the letter, was delighted at the ruling which came three years after the airline stopped serving shark fin to passengers on flights.
He said it send “a strong signal” to shark traders, adding: “For a big blue-chip company like Cathay Pacific to do the right thing is brilliant. That was the whole idea behind this - to put a stranglehold on the trade.” He hinted that Singapore Airlines will now be the focus for campaigners.
Millions of sharks and rays are killed each year - estimates have suggested 26 million to 73 million annually but there is no firm figure. Many are simply discarded as unwanted bycatch while others have their fins cut off with the rest of the carcass being dumped at sea.
The decision by Cathay Pacific comes as conservationists and scientists at the congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in South Korea urged governments worldwide to do more to protect the animals.
They want the trade in sharks and rays to be controlled by adding them to the list of creatures covered by the CITES international trade regulations and strengthened fisheries rules. They are particularly anxious to win protection for porbeagle sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks, devils rays, giant manta rays and reef manta rays.
Dr Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said: “We cannot continue to allow the destruction of these wonders of evolution.”
Dr John Robinson, WCS's Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science, added: “The international trade in shark and ray products, including fins, meat, and other body parts, is driving shark and ray fisheries around the world, and most of these are unmanaged or only minimally managed.
"Lack of controls on fisheries and international trade puts species at risk but also jeopardizes sustainable fisheries, ecosystems, and food security. A commitment by the international community is crucial.”
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