An Overview of the Global Shark Fin Trade with Emphasis on Monitoring Methods

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

Second Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Mahmood Shivji

Second Advisor

Bradley Wetherbee


Shark products such as fins, meat, skin and oil have been used by humans for centuries. Currently, one of the largest drivers of shark exploitation is the shark fin trade, which is sustained mostly by Asian countries that consume shark fin soup.[MS1] Until recently there was little oversight or understanding of the fin market, and documentation of species-specific shark landings data was largely non-existent due to the previously low economic value of sharks and the cryptic nature of the trade where most fins come from bycatch species that are finned at sea. The recent and accumulating scientific evidence of rapidly declining shark populations has spurred considerable international interest in better monitoring shark fisheries and the fin trade itself to inform fishery management. Many of the large bodied shark species that are threatened or endangered (International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List) have been overfished due to demands for their fins which sell for high prices in the market. Although international and national fishing laws exist to protect these species, the economic incentives of the fin trade encourages illegal and unregulated fishing (IUU). Understanding of the market as a whole is essential for monitoring shark biomass in the trade, but each species responds differently to fishing pressures and therefore monitoring methods that can identify species-specific contributions to the trade are needed for effective conservation programs. Current methods used for fishery data collection and law enforcement include trade records, statistical analysis and genetic identification. This Capstone paper summarizes information about: the history of shark fin consumption, the shark fin trade, current markets and economic importance of the trade, current fishing policies for the top five shark fin exporting countries plus the United States, consequences of unsustainable fisheries, and currently used and new approaches to track and characterize the fin trade.

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