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The Gill Raker Myth

Despite the claims, gill rakers do not cure disease

Photo Credit: Paul Hilton
The Gill Raker Myth
Tags: Gill Raker 

Demand for gill rakers is the largest driver for manta and mobula ray fisheries. Anecdotes gathered through investigations and literature searches suggest that gill rakers, which consist of thin filaments that manta and mobula rays use to filter food from the water column, can treat health issues ranging from chicken pox to cancer. Some practitioners claim that gill rakers, known in China as “Peng Yu Sai,” boost the immune system and help purify the body by reducing toxins and fever and enhancing blood circulation. Others claim that gill rakers will remedy throat and skin ailments, male kidney issues, and help couples with fertility problems.

Investigators interviewed Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners in Southern China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore. TCM refers to an ancient and holistic system of health and healing. Though not historically a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, industry marketing appears to be pushing gill rakers toward greater acceptance in TCM.

Some TCM practitioners suggested gill rakers as an effective remedy for certain ailments, but none was able to locate a specific reference in TCM texts. One TCM practitioner interviewed reviewed all 6,400 remedies of the official TCM reference manual, and found that Peng Yu Sai was not listed.

Practitioners interviewed admitted that gill rakers were not effective and many alternatives were available.

In fact, many young TCM doctors are not even aware of this remedy, ifndicating that it is not included in current TCM curricula. The use of gill rakers as a remedy is reported to have been popular in Southern China many years ago, but its use declined. Over the past ten years, however, there appears to have been an effort by traders to revive this remedy and create a new market.

Some suppliers in China report an increase in demand for gill rakers. Direct to consumer marketing of this remedy appears to be driving the demand, much like the trend in recent years for pharmaceutical companies marketing drugs directly to the consumer. Because of claims that the product bolsters the immune system, marketing efforts playing on the public’s fear of outbreaks of swine and bird flu and SARS, may also be driving demand1.

Belief in the health benefits of consuming gill rakers is largely found in a subset of the older population in Southern China, and to a lesser extent in Macau, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Gill rakers are not steeped in tradition or considered “prestigious”. These barriers faced by campaigns to curb consumption of shark fins therefore do not generally apply with gill rakers.

Consumers and even many sellers of gill rakers are not aware that the product comes from manta or mobula rays, particularly since the name - “Peng Yu Sai” or “fish gills” – is not associated with manta or mobula rays.

References

1 - Hilton, P. 2011. East Asia Market Investigation. Manta Ray of Hope, 49pp.