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First practical test for monitoring shark trade

Shark finning -- chopping off the fins and tossing the rest -- is increasing worldwide to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup. But tracking this trade is hard because isolated fins generally look the same. Now there is a new way to identify sharks from just their fins.

"We have developed an efficient way to achieve accurate and rapid identification of shark body parts, including dried fins," says Mahmood Shivji of Nova Southeastern University's Guy Harvey Research Institute in Dania Beach, Florida, who presents this work with five co-authors in the August issue of Conservation Biology

While overexploitation threatens fish all over the world, sharks are particularly vulnerable because they grow and reproduce slowly. But shark conservation and management are hampered by the fact that there's no good way to tell which species are being overexploited by the fin and seafood trades. Existing genetic tests that identify sharks from their body parts are too slow and expensive to be practical for monitoring the shark trade. "Reliable quantitative assessment of the current level and impact of the shark fin harvest on the status of individual pelagic shark species is impossible," say Shivji and his colleagues.

To help overcome this obstacle, the researchers developed a new genetic shark-identification test that is quick, accurate and relatively cheap. So far, they have developed tests for six shark species that are commonly caught in the North Atlantic, either directly or as bycatch in the tuna and swordfish fisheries. These sharks (blue, dusky, longfin and shortfin makos, porbeagle and silky) are also common in the global fin market.

Shivji and his colleagues evaluated the six shark tests on samples from 33 closely-related known species and found that they were nearly 100% accurate. The one exception was that the dusky shark test was also positive for the oceanic whitetip shark sample. While both of these sharks are common in the North At
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Contact: Mahmood Shivji
mahmood@nova.edu
954-262-3653
Society for Conservation Biology
22-Jul-2002


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