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Marine academics from UAE sign letter to HK government.

Dubai: Three UAE marine scientists have joined dozens of global academics to pressure the Hong Kong government to protect sharks from finning practices that research suggests are decimating shark populations around the world.

Roughly half of the annual world shark-fin production is shipped through Hong Kong, a top destination for countries such as the UAE which is said to be the fifth largest exporter of the shark-fin soup delicacy to the dried seafood market in Hong Kong.

In a letter presented by Hong Kong Shark Foundation and signed by 41 top academics, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) legislators are urged to protect sharks from overfishing.

There has been no action taken on the letter since it was formally presented in late May.

"We hope to gain media attention in order to raise awareness amongst the general public of the scientific basis for the anti-shark finning movement," Rachel Vickerstaff, co-founder of HK Shark Foundation told Gulf News. "Additionally, we want to put pressure on governments worldwide to implement appropriate shark conservation measures where these don't already exist."

Signatories to the letter include Saif Al Ghais, associate professor Marine Biology at UAE University as well as Ali Saqer Sultan Al Suwaidi, CEO and Founder of Emirates Marine Environmental Group (EMEG), and colleague Keith Wilson, EMEG marine programme director.

In the letter, obtained by Gulf News, scientists write, " this vast trade is largely unmanaged and unmonitored, and that the shark fin industry in Asia plays little to no role in fisheries management in the countries that are fishing sharks. The slow growth and reproductive rates of sharks makes them extremely susceptible to overexploitation. Since only a small fraction of shark-fishing nations have any type of shark management plan in place, the assertion that the fin trade is sustainable is not based in fact."

Not sustainable

Vickerstaff said the current rate of capture in some parts of the world is not sustainable.

Some estimates peg the yearly yield of sharks taken for their fins as high as 70 million.

"As apex predators sitting at the top of the marine food chain, sharks help to regulate the abundance and diversity of the different species beneath them. Declining shark populations, therefore, have a direct impact on the health of our oceans," she said from Hong Kong.

"As explained in the marine scientists letter, many shark populations have experienced dramatic declines over recent decades -- an alarming change driven by unsustainable fishing practices to satisfy the growing demand for shark fin (primarily for use in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup). Sharks reproduce too slowly to keep up with the level of over-fishing and current trade restrictions are insufficient in relation to the number of shark populations under threat of extinction."

In addition to the letter, HK Shark Foundation has launched a petition to put more pressure on legislators.

"To date, over 3,700 people have signed the petition. The HK Government is aware that it exists but it hasn't officially been closed and presented yet. Also, the petition is just one of the ways that HKSF is lobbying the HKSAR Govt."

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jun 7, 2012
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