Target the right problem in shark conservation

The World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore's (WWF-Singapore) claim that three in four Singaporeans would back laws to reduce shark's fin consumption has no merit, as the sample size of 504 people is hardly representative of the population, and the survey was not conducted by an independent party ("Poll: Fewer diners have appetite for shark's fin"; Feb 4).

The claim that around 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins is also seriously flawed.

One of the world's foremost experts on the shark fin trade, Dr Shelley Clarke, has warned: "The truth is that no one knows how many sharks are killed for their fins."

The claim that shark's fins are often obtained by cutting the fins off sharks and leaving them to die in the sea is flawed, as shark finning has been banned in most countries, including Spain, where most legal fins come from.

Illegally harvested shark's fins are not allowed into Singapore, as the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act is rigorously enforced.

Why change the law when the intention of Parliament is clear that Singapore will comply fully with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites)?

WWF-Singapore's and Shark Savers' missions to save sharks are commendable, but these non-governmental organisations' strategies must be holistic.

To campaign only against shark's fin soup is culturally insensitive, as Cites has not listed any shark species as endangered.

The laws of Asean, the United States, the European Union, Russia, China, Japan and India, among others, have also not listed any shark species as endangered.

Furthermore, to imply that only Asians consume sharks is patently unfair.

About 10 million kg of spiny dogfish were consumed in the US in 2011 - a 33 per cent spike from 2010, even after the Shark Conservation Act was enacted.

In the EU, 20 million kg of spiny dogfish were consumed in 2011, disguised as rock salmon in fish and chip meals in Britain, as saumonette in France and as schillerlocken in Germany.

In Australia, about 15 million kg of shark meat, called flakes, are made into fish and chip meals every year.

Paradoxically, the recalcitrant parties are the industrial-scale fisheries in the West, which target more valuable swordfish and giant bluefin tuna, but end up killing millions of sharks.

This is deplorable, and stringent legislation is needed to reduce this deadly by-catch.

Tan Keng Tat

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'Target the right problem in shark conservation'. Print Edition | Subscribe