London Times article exposes ‘Shark Fin Godfather’

Posted on March 15, 2012
Written by: Shark Savers
Tags: Conservation  I'm FINished with FINs Campaign 

Giam.jpgOn February 16th, Shark Savers participated in a debate in Singapore that was the first of its kind: Shark Savers and animal rights group ACRES vs. Dr. Giam Choo Hoo, called the “Shark Fin Godfather” by the London Times’ Frank Pope this morning.

Frank Pope is the Ocean Correspondent for the London Times. In both an article and a more complete blog story recounting his interview with Giam, Pope exposes not only Giam’s motivations, but also the devastating, industry/trade-based conflict of interest that is rendering the UN-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) impotent.

Here is the problem:

Giam works on CITES Animal Committee AND blocks shark protections

  • CITES was established by the United Nations and is the only international body that regulates the trade of threatened and endangered species.
  • Dr. Giam is on the Animal Committee of CITES.
  • As Pope puts it, Giam has managed a long “campaign of technicalities, procedural complaints and stalling for time…designed to keep sharks off the CITES listings”.
  • As Sue Lieberman of Pew Environmental Group observes, “Dr Giam represents the interests of trade. He tries very hard to block any conservation actions, particularly reptiles and fish."
  • Because CITES requires 2/3 of its member nations to agree to a listing, Dr. Giam and his allies are successful because only 1/3 of voters are needed to block protections.

 Giam’s conflict of interest

  • Dr. Giam has been closely associated with the Shark Fin & Marine Products Association (recently rebranded the Marine Products Association) and is on the board of Heng Long International, a crocodile skin trading outfit.
  • As a member of the Animals Committee of CITES, Giam’s associations should be considered a conflict of interest. However, CITES does not have a conflict of interest policy.
  • In Pope’s interview, Giam states, “’I’m elected by the Asian region I will tend to want to help them out where I can,’ he told me. And he went on to say that because Shark fin Soup is the number one most prestigious thing to serve at a big event in China, Chinese people do not want it banned, and therefore he campaigns for that result.”
  • Pope points out that “The UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is pretty clear that members of the Animals Committee do not represent their region but should be selected as individual experts.”

We, in the conservation community, are certainly not shocked that the trade is well represented at CITES. However, we ARE aghast that this important regulatory body can be so subverted and controlled by trade interests.

So, is Giam an expert? When he rails against shark protections, how good is his science? Not good. Our debate in Singapore included presentations by Giam as well as Shark Savers and ACRES. Our presentations systematically dismantled Dr. Giam’s decidedly non-scientific arguments that favored the shark fin trade. For the scientific research and fact sheets behind Shark Savers’ arguments, please review our previous blog on the debate.


Dr Giam claimed that most sharks are caught by artisanal fishers and that less developed countries would suffer if sharks were not harvested.

We argued that most shark fishing is done by commercial pelagic fisheries and that artisanal fishers suffer from resulting fish population collapses. Local coastal communities also benefit more from shark eco-tourism than shark killing.


Dr. Giam claimed that 80% of global shark catch is accidental. He used calculations based on one quote, but not one source of scientific data.

We argued that shark fishing is highly unsustainable, much of it is driven by the demand for expensive fins, and that all species most involved in the shark fin trade are threatened or near threatened with extinction. While there is no evidence that accidental bycatch represents a large percentage of total shark catch, there is evidence that sharks caught by bycatch that used to be released, are now kept for their valuable fins.

Dr. Giam argued that because few sharks are listed by CITES they are not in need of protection.

We argued that CITES is not a scientific body. Only government representatives have a vote to list a species as requiring protection from international trade, and a 2/3 majority is required. Trade-based economics are CITES main criteria, not species population science or conservation. One reason why more shark species are not listed by CITES is because people like Dr. Giam work to ensure that there is more than 1/3 opposed. Shark Savers maintains that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is science-based, is the best arbiter of which species are deserving of protection.


Despite the fact that our ISEAS debate presentation was clearly in favor of strong shark protections and against over-exploitation and the shark fin trade, the Singapore press inexplicably stated that the Shark Savers position had been in agreement with Giam. While there were moments of limited agreement, the fundamental arguments were so clearly in opposition to each other that is astonishing that the press was so eager to misrepresent this debate. The very press institutions that misrepresented our position are the same that, for years, have been publishing Giam’s claims without questioning them. These newspapers have much to learn from today’s London Times article and blog by Mr. Pope.

Shark Savers and our partners, all in favor of greater protections for sharks, have had significant conservation ‘wins’ during the past 18 months – increasing state-level shark fin bans, more shark sanctuaries and 10,000’s people all over the world pledging not to buy shark fin soup. The shark fin trade clearly has taken notice and our Singapore debate was an attempt to fight back—it was Giam who called for the debate. Interestingly, it is this very debate that has brought the first international investigative attention to Giam and his links to the shark fin trade.

It is critical that CITES, the only international organization that we have to protect endangered species against the destructive and unsustainable shark fin trade, restores its focus on its mission and establish a conflict of interest policy. Time is running out for many species of sharks and our oceans.