PNG satisfies China’s appetite for shark fin

Published on
December 14, 2011

The South Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea is keen to satisfy China’s demand for shark fins, set to surge with the onset of Chinese New Year in January.

“We’re getting a lot of enquiries from China,” said Carson Koviro, provincial supports officer with the island nation’s National Fisheries Authority.

Koviro explained that while the authority’s emphasis is on driving tuna exports to China, shark fin sales have been strong. The trade is sustainable, he said: “We have a lot of sharks. It’s bycatch, and rather than throwing them back in the sea we can ship them to China.”

Koviro also said his organization will next year open an office or appoint an agent in China. Among the Papua New Guinea shark fin suppliers are Ailan Seafoods Ltd. and Wamomo Seafood Exporters Ltd., whose shark fins are graded as pectoral, dorsal and caudal fins sold dried in 20- to 25-kilogram poly bags.

Conservationists take a dim view of Papua New Guinea’s eagerness to satisfy Chinese demand for shark fins. “Significant levels of bycatch of any species, let alone vulnerable top-predators such as shark should not be allowed. It should not be a matter of sell or waste it, it should be don’t catch it in the first place,” said Steve Trent of Wild Aid, an NGO campaigning against the shark fin trade.

In her recently published book, Demon Fish, journalist Juliet Eilperin has reported that demand from Chinese diners has ensured more than 73 million sharks are killed each year and that 90 percent of sharks in the world’s open oceans have already disappeared.

Restaurants in Beijing, meanwhile, have been stocking up on shark fins for the traditional New Year’s festival, which starts on 25 January. Prices for a bowl of shark fin soup at three restaurants contacted in Beijing (Asen Shark’s Fin Restaurant, Shun Feng and Thai Village) range from RMB 380 (USD 59.30) to RMB 800 (USD 124).

Prices depend on the size of fins — large, complete fins cost a lot more, but restaurateurs claim there’s a glut of fake fins on the market. Several lower-end restaurants contacted for this article offer less expensive shark fin soup, with prices ranging from RMB 238 (USD 37) to RMB 498 (USD 77). But regular consumers of shark fin soup doubt the quality of the material used.

“They often use bean vermicelli,” said one customer at Asen Shark’s Fin, referring to a popular Chinese noodle-type food made of bean powder. “It looks like shark’s fin very much, and people not used to shark’s fin won’t know the difference. Sometimes the restaurant adds a little bit of shark’s fin, maybe, but it’s not very pure.”

None of the restaurants contacted could confirm they served Papua New Guinea shark fins, with most claiming that the fins had come from Hong Kong. That may be because awareness of country of origin in general is low in China.

“It’s important to increase information about Papua New Guinea product,” said Koviro. Hence a Papua New Guinea delegation made its second trip to a Chinese seafood trade show when it set up a booth at last month’s China Fisheries & Seafood Expo in Qingdao.

Papua New Guinea fishermen will suffer most from overfishing of sharks and other species, warned Wild Aid’s Trent, who believes far better management and regulation is needed, along with high-impact education initiatives for small-scale fishermen. Trent pointed to Food and Agriculture data showing that 80 percent of the world’s fisheries are already fully-exploited, over-exploited or in decline, “effectively meaning we have reached the limits of wild fisheries capture.”

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500