The first real-data study of sharks harvested for their valuable fins estimates as few as 26 million and as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year worldwide--three times higher than was reported originally by the United Nations, according to a paper published as the cover story in the October 2006 edition of Ecology Letters.
"The shark fin trade is notoriously secretive. But we were able tap into fin auction records and convert from fin sizes and weights to whole shark equivalents to get a good handle on the actual numbers," says lead author Shelley Clarke, Ph.D, an American fisheries scientist based in Hong Kong and Japan.
A team of researchers calculated the number of sharks represented in the fin trade using a unique statistical model and data from Hong Kong traders. When the figures were converted to shark weight, the total is three to four times higher than shark catch figures reported to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
"Without any real data, numbers as high as 100 million had been floating around for a while, but we had no way of knowing whether or not this was accurate," says Ellen Pikitch, Ph.D., co-author and executive director of the University of Miami's Pew Institute for Ocean Science. "This paper, which produces the first estimate based on real data, shows that the actual number of sharks killed is indeed very high but is more likely to be in the order of tens of millions, with a median estimate of 38 million sharks killed annually."
Concern about the shark finning trade has grown over the past few years as demand has surged beyond sustainable levels for slow-to-produce shark populations and without regulation in most countries. Three shark species are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), and 20 percent are threatened with extinction according to the 2006 Red List of Threatened Species.