Tags: Shark Fin Impacts 

Artisanal Fishermen

m-Baby-HHs-e600mary.jpgArtisanal fishing commonly refers to small-scale fisheries using traditional, low-tech harvesting methods, typically for local consumption rather than export markets1.

These communities are particularly vulnerable to the over-exploitation of sharks. Despite the short-term economic benefits of the shark fin trade to artisanal fishermen, shark fishing in fact depletes marine ecosystems of commercial fish, is an unsustainable source of income and leaves small communities vulnerable to exploitation larger international fishing operations.

Healthy shark populations support healthy and abundant fish stocks.

Coral reefs are vital to the livelihoods of millions of people worldwide2. Research shows that overfishing of sharks can trigger a domino effect leading to the decline of these important marine habitats3. “It appears that ecosystems such as Caribbean coral reefs need sharks to ensure the stability of the entire system,” said Sala, deputy director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps4.

Removal of sharks, evaluated from survey data and statistical models, can result in complex community changes, including large declines of valuable commercial fish, such as tuna and jacks5,6.

Pristine coral reefs around remote Pacific islands with high levels of shark biomass support higher levels of herbivorous fish and species biodiversity overall when compared to similar systems where sharks are heavily fished5. Healthy shark populations not only impact prey numbers but prey behavior, as well. By regulating grazing behavior of prey species, such as dugongs and green turtles, the presence of tiger sharks has been demonstrated to have a positive influence on the health of sea grass beds, which serve as vital habitat for many species7,8.

Local fishermen, in many cases, are exploited rather than helped by the shark fin trade.

Shark catches by vessels flagged to the Pacific Island Countries and Territories represent a very small proportion of the total catch of sharks in the Western Central Pacific Ocean8. In fact, large-scale fishing fleets often illegally enter developing nations’ Economic Exclusive Zones to fish for sharks, spurred by the lucrative trade in fins. There are approximately 150-200 foreign vessels targeting sharks off East Africa, the Middle East, and in the Western Indian Ocean9.

This large-scale fishing generates millions of dollars, but very little will trickle down to local fisheries.  Between 2003 and 2006, Indonesia’s shark fishing trade was estimated at US$ 7 million, but local communities only received small, one-time access fees10.

Artisanal fisheries, on the other hand, barely break even. In Jakarta a case study analyzed the income of artisanal shark fishermen and found that after paying the boat owner, the captain, each of the crew members as well as the cost of gas, fishermen received less than 10% of the profit made, amounting to US $4 for an average voyage. In fact, 8 out of 22 trips lost money11.

A Javan artisanal fishery study showed that only 5% of the catch value came from sharks, skates and rays (elasmobranchs) and found that even if no elasmobranchs were caught at all, the household incomes only decreased by 7% for boat owners, and 3% for the crew12.

To make matters worse, foreign fishing fleets have also been known to engage in destructive fishing practices, including bombing reefs and the use of poisons, which indiscriminately destroy local marine resources13. Foreign vessels illegally fishing for sharks in coastal waters have a significant negative economic and ecological impact on local fisheries14.

Shark fin fisheries are not a sustainable long-term income for coastal communities

Shark fisheries are characterized by boom and bust patterns, cycles of high catches followed quickly by declining numbers as evidenced in fisheries for soupfin shark, porbeagle, and basking shark15. In West Africa, catches for shark fishermen climbed until 2005, and then suddenly dropped 50% in three years16.

This sudden drop affects fishermen enormously. In small West Africa fisheries where the local shark population has been depleted, fishermen owe heavy debts to traders from South East Asia, who lend money to finance the rising costs of the fuel and larger boats needed to fish further from shore. But as sharks become harder to find, fishermen find it more and more difficult to break even16.  “We catch them,” says a Senegalese shark fishermen, “But I couldn’t afford a small bowl of soup.”17

Small-scale aquaculture for seaweed, shellfish and other complementary species, on the other hand, can provide valuable sources of food and fuel, while improving the marine environment and potentially even mitigating impacts of climate change17.

Seaweed, for example, doubles as a nutrient-rich food source and a sponge for organic pollutants. ‘Seaweed farms alone have the capacity to grow massive amounts of nutrient-rich food. Professor Ronald Osinga at Wageningen University in the Netherlands has calculated that a global network of "sea-vegetable" farms totaling 180,000 square kilometers -- roughly the size of Washington state -- could provide enough protein for the entire world population'9.

Seaweed farming has become the main source of income for many fishermen in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and has resulted in both environmental and socioeconomic benefits. The environment benefits from the reduction of destructive fishing practices, increased awareness regarding conservation of mangrove areas and protection of coral reefs due to absorption of excess nutrients from terrestrial  farming and development. Socioeconomic benefits come from increased income and enhanced family and community participation13.

Sea cucumber ranching is another example of a potentially lucrative business for coastal communities, which also improves the health of the ecosystem. Sea cucumbers are referred to as the “vacuums of the sea” due to their role of cleaning sediments, which is critical to maintaining a healthy ecosystem14. Farming of these valuable animals, which have been severely depleted in many areas, has been introduced in many locations, including in Madagascar, the Solomon Islands and Indonesia, providing a sustainable alternative to destructive or unsustainable practices10.


1 - Schorr, D., 2005, Artisanal Fishing: Promoting poverty reduction and community development through new wto rules on Fisheries subsidies, UNEP. p. 13 referring to an oral answer given by the United States to an inquiry from Japan.

2 - Haylor, G., Briggs, M., Pet-Soede, L., Tung, H., Yen, N., Adrien, B., O’Callaghan, B., Gow, C., DeVantier, L. Cheung, C., Santos, R., Pador, E., de la Torre, M., Bulcock, P., 2001. Improving Coastal Livelihoods Through Sustainable Aquaculture Practices: A Report to the Collaborative APEC Grouper Research and Development Network (FWG/01/2001).

3 - Bascompte, J., Melian, J, Sala, E. 2005, Interaction strength combinations and the overfishing of a marine food web. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 102, no. 15, April 15, 2005.

4 - University Of California, San Diego (2005, April 11). Research Shows Overfishing Of Sharks Key Factor In Coral Reef Decline. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 5, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com- /releases/2005/04/050411205307.htm

5 - Stevenson, C., Katz, L.S., Micheli, F., Block, B., Heiman, K.W., Perle, C., Weng, K., Dunbar R., and Witting, J. 2007. High apex predator biomass on remote Pacific islands. Coral Reefs, 26: 47-51.

6 - Ferretti, F., Worm, B., Britten, G.L., Heithaus, M.R., and Lotze, H.K. 2010. Patterns and ecosystem consequences of shark declines in the ocean. Ecology Letters, 13: 1055-1071

7 - Wirsing, A. J., Heithaus, M. R., and Dill, L.M. 2007. Fear factor: do dugongs (Dugong dugon) trade food for saftey from tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier)? Oecologia, 153: 1031-1040.

8 - Heithaus, M. R., A. Frid, Wirsing, A.J., Dill, L.M., Fourqurean, J.W., Burkholder, D., Thomson, J., and Bejder, L. 2007. State-dependent risk taking by green sea turtles mediates top-down effects of tiger shark intimidation in a marine ecosystem. Journal of Animal Ecology, 76(5): 837-844.

9 - Dudley, S.F.J. and Cavanagh, R.D. 2006. Rhynchobatus djiddensis In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Version 2011.2. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 03 February 2012.

10 - Varkey, D.A., Ainsworth, C.H., Pitcher, T.J., Goram, Y., and Sumaila. 2010. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries catch in Raja Ampat Regency, Eastern Indonesia. Marine Policy, 34: 228-236.

11 - Suzuki, T. 1997, Development of Shark Fisheries and Shark Fin Export in Indonesia: Case Study of Karansong Village, Indramayu, West Java. Elasmobranch biodiversity, conservation and management:Proceedings of the International Seminar and Workshop, Sabah, Malaysia, July 1997.

12 - Tull, M. 2009. The History of Shark Fishing in Indonesia: A HMAP Asia Project Paper, Sept. 2009. Associate Professor Malcolm Tull, Murdoch Business School and Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University.

13 - Donnelly R, Neville D, Mous PJ. 2003. Final draft report on a rapid ecological assessment of the Raja Ampat Islands, Papua, Eastern Indonesia. The Nature Conservancy 2003.

14 - Pascoe, S., Okey, T.A. and Griffiths, S. 2008. Economic and ecosystem impacts of illegal,  unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in Northern Australia. The Australian Journal of Agriculture and Resource Economics, 52: 433-452.

15 - Stevens, J.D, Bonfil, R., Dulvy, N.K. and Walker, P.A. 2000. The effects of fishing on sharks, rays and chimaeras (chondrichthyans), and the implications for marine ecosystems. ICES Journal of Marine Science 57: 474.494.

16 - Diop, M., and Dossa, J. 2011. 30 years of shark fishing in West Africa: development of fisheries, catch trends, and their conservation status in Sub-Regional Fishing Commission member countries.

CSRP/SRFC, 51 pp.

Direct quote from Diop and Dossa 2011: "We must remember that the exploitation of sharks is facilitated by considerable financial support from external stakeholders to purchase shark fins. This investment is as much for the fishermen as for the fish processors. The major losses recorded by certain fishermen tend to make them more dependent on these ‘hidden’ financial actors, called ‘wholesale fish merchants,’ because they finance the fishing expeditions. This situation enables the wholesale fish merchants (who are also the ‘lenders’) to strengthen their monopolistic positions, by means of top-down strategies for controlling the shark exploitation activities, which consist in signing purchase contracts with the fishermen to buy most of what they catch, and in being involved in the processing and selling of the products."

17 - Portal to Africa, Staff writer, “Senegal: Shark fin hunt empties west African seas”,http://www.portaltoafrica.com/news/africa/general/shark-fin-hunt-empties-west-african-seas/


Join our email list for the
latest news and help make
a difference