SeaWeb.org is featuring a commentary on the scientific integrity of the global shark fin trade by fisheries science researcher Shelly Clarke. Statistics from Clarke’s research on the shark fin trade are often cited when it comes to the estimated number of shark killed each year for commercial markets.
Clarke points out that her best estimate in 2000 was that 38 million sharks per year were being traded worldwide through fin markets, but that the range could be anywhere from 26 million to 73 million. She also points out that many conservation organizations cite that commercial fishing operations kill millions of sharks each year but rarely is her best estimate of 38 million used. Rather, the figures of 73 million (her top-end estimate) or 100 million are used instead.
The 100 million statistic was initially published in a 1997 Time magazine article. The article titled “Under Attack” stated that “30 to 100 million” sharks were harvested each year for their meat, fins, jaws, hides, and internal organs. However, Clarke says she can find “no scientific basis” for the figure.
Clarke goes on to say that her own figures are often misquoted as representing the number of sharks “killed for their fins” or “finned alive.” She notes that no one actually knows how many sharks are killed for their fins or are finned alive and dumped back into the ocean, because the data simply is not available.
When bringing up the question of why the actual number is important, Clarke offers that misuse or “selective and slanted” use of information devalues the impartial work done by researchers to obtain the data. She also warns that misrepresentation and exaggeration of facts can undermine and discredit otherwise worthwhile shark conservation efforts. Additionally, Clarke points out the accurate catch numbers are needed in order to properly manage long-term shark population sustainability.
Clarke finishes her commentary with some guidelines to being a better “science consumer.”
To read Clarke’s commentary in its entirety, head on over to SeaWeb.org.