INTERNATIONAL SHARK SYMPOSIUM TAIPEI (May 2002)


© John H Harding

According to the most recent statistics released by the Council of Agriculture (行政院農業委With its massive market for shark products, Taiwan is in a strong position to provide international leadership in creating a sustainable environment for shark fishing
By Gavin Phipps / STAFF REPORTER

Long the target of international criticism in relation to questionable fishing practices and a lack of conservation awareness, Taiwan’s fishing industry will be under the spotlight once again this coming week, when the Shark Conference 2002 kicks off in Taipei today.

Organized jointly by the National Taiwan Ocean University (國立台灣海洋大學) and WildAid — a US based non-profit organization — the four-day conference is set to see a host of shark experts from around the world taking to the podium and addressing shark related matters ranging from utilization, conservation and shark attacks.

The choice of Taiwan as the host nation was not made in order to chastise Taiwan’s much-maligned fishing industry, however. Instead the nation was chosen by WildAid because the NGO believes that Taiwan’s fishing industry has the potential to become a role model for fishing industries across the globe in the area of shark conservation and shark fishery management.

“We’re not here to criticize Taiwan, but encourage [it],” stated Peter Knights, director and founder of WildAid. “Taiwan was chosen not only because it is a hub of shark fishing and importation, but also because we feel that Taiwan is in a unique position to show leadership in the field of utilization and sustain-ability.”

With an annual catch of between 30 to 50 thousand tons, or 7 percent of a global shark catch totaling roughly 800 thousand tons, Taiwan is the world’s fifth largest producer of shark-based products behind Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Spain.

According to the most recent statistics released by the Council of Agriculture (行政院農業委員會), which are based on a study undertaken in 2000, of the 47,741 tons of shark caught that year, 38,447 tons was taken from far seas shark fisheries and 9,294 tons was taken from coastal shark fisheries in the seas adjacent to the township of Suao (蘇澳) on Taiwan’s east coast.

In addition, Taiwan is also a major importer of shark. In recent year’s sales of shark caught by fishing fleets based out of India, the Philippines and Spain have increased in order to fulfill the demand for shark in Taiwan. The meat is primarily used in the manufacture of fish balls.

“We’re not opposed to the fishing of shark or the eating of shark. The situation is that the fishing of sharks is unmanaged. This is what makes it unsustainable, as nobody knows the actual numbers of sharks in the oceans,” continued Knights.

According to Knights, one way in which Taiwan can help monitor shark populations is to offer financial incentives to fisherman to tag sharks rather than to slaughter them. While this task is undertaken by universities and government bodies in Australia and the US, the concept is relatively new to Taiwan.

“With the exception of the fin, shark is not a high-end fish product. In fact, its meat is cheap and considered second rate by most people,” explained Liu Kwang-ming (劉光明), professor at the National Taiwan Ocean University’s department of fishery science (國立台灣海洋大學魚業科學學系). “This is one of the main reasons shark fishing hasn’t been monitored as closely as tuna fishing, for which extensive records dating back nearly 50 years exist.”

At present the most frequently used method of collecting data on shark populations in the seas around Taiwan is word of mouth. This rough and ready method relies on fishermen comparing the size of last year’s catch with this year’s. Needless to say, this only gives authorities a very rough estimate as to the actual number of sharks in Taiwan’s territorial waters.

“Official records of what is caught are nearly non-existent. Those that do exist state whether the sharks are big or small but provide little data regarding the species or location of the catch,” continued Liu. “This is something that needs to change if the extermination of certain species of sharks is to be avoided.”

While accurate records are scarce, conservationists firmly believe that the plankton eating whale shark is one species native to the waters of the South China Sea that is close to extinction. To make matters worse, the whale shark is also the most commonly eaten shark in Taiwan.

“Taiwan is the only country in the world where a commercial market for whale shark exists. Because of this, a thriving trade in whale sharks has sprung up in the waters around the Philippines and extending to the Indian Ocean,” said Knights. “And once again, Taiwan is in a perfect position to put an end to this simply by limiting the number of whale sharks caught on an annual basis.”

In August last year the Central Government stepped into the fray surrounding the whale shark. Regulations now exist that limit the number of whale sharks that can be caught annually to 80.

While WildAid firmly believes that Taiwan’s coastal shark fisheries have the potential to become world leaders in conservation and sustainability, a certain degree of negativity still surrounds the local shark fishing industry.

Shark finning, or the retention of the sharks fin and the discarding of the carcass is still common practice, especially among Taiwan’s far seas fleet. Shark fins are seen by many crews an opportunity to earn a little extra cash.

 

Silky shark off Sydney (1967) by JH Hardding

“More often than not finning is undertaken by the crew as a sideline when the boats are in waters some distance from Taiwan,” said Knights. “For example, one Taiwan ship was recently intercepted by the coast guard in waters off Hawaii with 2.6 tons of fins and no carcasses.”

Although Hong Kong is the undisputed center of the international trade in shark fin — with 90 percent of the world’s shark fins passing through processing plants in the ex-British colony — the market for shark fin products in Taiwan has increased.

And while coast guard units are now willing to intercept and confiscate illegally collected fins, both Liu and Knights agree that the only real way in which to stop the practice of finning is to take their arguments to the marketplace.

In order to do this Knights and WildAid have, for the first time, invited shark fin dealers to participate in the up-coming conference.

“While the United Nations and its Food and Agriculture Organization have condemned the practice and fishermen caught with more fins than carcasses now face charges, we are still waiting for dealers to openly condemn finning,” concluded Knights. “Once this is done and fishermen realize that dealers won’t purchase fins that have been gathered illegally, the bottom goes out of the market and the horrific practice will be brought to an end sooner rather than later.”
員會), which are based on a study undertaken in 2000, of the 47,741 tons of shark caught that year, 38,447 tons was taken from far seas shark fisheries and 9,294 tons was taken from coastal shark fisheries in the seas adjacent to the township of Suao (蘇澳) on Taiwan’s east coast.

In addition, Taiwan is also a major importer of shark. In recent year’s sales of shark caught by fishing fleets based out of India, the Philippines and Spain have increased in order to fulfill the demand for shark in Taiwan. The meat is primarily used in the manufacture of fish balls.

“We’re not opposed to the fishing of shark or the eating of shark. The situation is that the fishing of sharks is unmanaged. This is what makes it unsustainable, as nobody knows the actual numbers of sharks in the oceans,” continued Knights.

According to Knights, one way in which Taiwan can help monitor shark populations is to offer financial incentives to fisherman to tag sharks rather than to slaughter them. While this task is undertaken by universities and government bodies in Australia and the US, the concept is relatively new to Taiwan.

“With the exception of the fin, shark is not a high-end fish product. In fact, its meat is cheap and considered second rate by most people,” explained Liu Kwang-ming (劉光明), professor at the National Taiwan Ocean University’s department of fishery science (國立台灣海洋大學魚業科學學系). “This is one of the main reasons shark fishing hasn’t been monitored as closely as tuna fishing, for which extensive records dating back nearly 50 years exist.”

At present the most frequently used method of collecting data on shark populations in the seas around Taiwan is word of mouth. This rough and ready method relies on fishermen comparing the size of last year’s catch with this year’s. Needless to say, this only gives authorities a very rough estimate as to the actual number of sharks in Taiwan’s territorial waters.

“Official records of what is caught are nearly non-existent. Those that do exist state whether the sharks are big or small but provide little data regarding the species or location of the catch,” continued Liu. “This is something that needs to change if the extermination of certain species of sharks is to be avoided.”

While accurate records are scarce, conservationists firmly believe that the plankton eating whale shark is one species native to the waters of the South China Sea that is close to extinction. To make matters worse, the whale shark is also the most commonly eaten shark in Taiwan.

“Taiwan is the only country in the world where a commercial market for whale shark exists. Because of this, a thriving trade in whale sharks has sprung up in the waters around the Philippines and extending to the Indian Ocean,” said Knights. “And once again, Taiwan is in a perfect position to put an end to this simply by limiting the number of whale sharks caught on an annual basis.”

In August last year the Central Government stepped into the fray surrounding the whale shark. Regulations now exist that limit the number of whale sharks that can be caught annually to 80.

While WildAid firmly believes that Taiwan’s coastal shark fisheries have the potential to become world leaders in conservation and sustainability, a certain degree of negativity still surrounds the local shark fishing industry.

Shark finning, or the retention of the sharks fin and the discarding of the carcass is still common practice, especially among Taiwan’s far seas fleet. Shark fins are seen by many crews an opportunity to earn a little extra cash.

“More often than not finning is undertaken by the crew as a sideline when the boats are in waters some distance from Taiwan,” said Knights. “For example, one Taiwan ship was recently intercepted by the coast guard in waters off Hawaii with 2.6 tons of fins and no carcasses.”

Although Hong Kong is the undisputed center of the international trade in shark fin — with 90 percent of the world’s shark fins passing through processing plants in the ex-British colony — the market for shark fin products in Taiwan has increased.

And while coast guard units are now willing to intercept and confiscate illegally collected fins, both Liu and Knights agree that the only real way in which to stop the practice of finning is to take their arguments to the marketplace.

In order to do this Knights and WildAid have, for the first time, invited shark fin dealers to participate in the up-coming conference.

“While the United Nations and its Food and Agriculture Organization have condemned the practice and fishermen caught with more fins than carcasses now face charges, we are still waiting for dealers to openly condemn finning,” concluded Knights. “Once this is done and fishermen realize that dealers won’t purchase fins that have been gathered illegally, the bottom goes out of the market and the horrific practice will be brought to an end sooner rather than later.”

Surfing magazines educate readers on hazards. It has not stopped sharks biting surfers and even their boards. Western Australia has clocked up many fatal bites since this issue went on sale in 2000.
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‘SPOT’ THE DIFFERENCE – TIGER SHARK Vs WHALE SHARK


Japanese scuba divers thought they were photographing a whale shark – except it had stripes instead of spots.

In ignorance they had found a 14 foot Tiger shark by mistake.  Use these pictures and remember the differences.  (Tiger shark  in the top shots).

(Photo by John Harding)

WHALE SHARK (John Harding with The Taylor’s)


Valerie Taylor (1967)
Valerie Taylor (1967)

   Whale sharks in a super  aquarium.

rjt1968.jpg

In the sixties whale sharks were still a sensational and rare subject to be filmed. Only a couple had ever been seen by divers underwater. One was in The Red Sea, (by Hans Hass) another – the first in Australia was off Montague Island, New South Wales in 1964 (with cameraman Ben Cropp and diver George Meyer).

The 1968 Seal Rocks Encounter featured a much larger whale shark with not quite as clear underwater visibility conditions.

My black and white 35mm pictures made a three pages picture story in a Sydney evening tabloid that was syndicated around the world. These were the first 35mm pictures, all previous whale shark pictures taken in the world were off tiny 16mm movie film frames.

At Brisbane some years later, whale sharks were still a much sought subject to film. I was quizzed by one of the then leading American underwater film cameramen-lecturers, “John, where can we (both) go to film a whale shark in Australia”?

My answer was not entirely honest as I’d not been there – “The north-west of Western Australia.”

Several years later the whale sharks were ‘discovered’ off Exmouth in the north-west of Western Australia by a small National Geographic sponsored team. When the discovery was still hot news to only a few people I used an introduction by a friend to do something for TV in Australia.

We then suggested to a high rating current affairs TV show that we could film them underwater scenes for a whale shark story at Exmouth.

The show researchers noted with interest the details, then ceased contact and soon after sent their own people to do the story.

The producer and the researcher who I spoke with have since risen to the tops of their television professions.