Shark Initiative - FAQ

Save Our Ocean and Be Part of the Solution!

1. Why is WWF doing shark conservation?
  • Hong Kong is one of the largest consumers per capita of shark fins in the world, yet the plight of sharks in the wild is poorly understood here.
  • According to a survey conducted by TNS for WWF in 2005, 58% of the local Cantonese-speaking population said they eat shark fin soup because it is offered at a meal, while 28% eat it for taste/enjoyment. When asked about the importance of having shark fin soup at wedding banquets, 39% preferred to have it, 29% preferred not to have it, and 34% showed no strong preference.
  • Encouragingly, 97% of respondents said that if they knew certain seafood species were threatened or in decline, they would reduce or stop eating them. The survey strongly suggests that Hong Kong people will reduce or stop eating shark fin if they understand the threats to these top predators.
  • WWF's Seafood Guide launched in March 2007 includes a general recommendation for consumers to avoid shark products. The shark leaflet, provides a concise explanation of the complex issues surrounding shark fisheries for the trade and public, and explains why WWF encourages companies and individuals not to consume shark fin at this time.
2. What are the problems facing sharks now?
  • Shark populations, like those of other harvested marine fish, are not inexhaustible. Sharks are often harvested for fins, meat or curios (teeth and jaws). The main threat to sharks worldwide is over-fishing, which has led to the decline of numerous populations and threatened their very survival.
  • As of 2010, 181 shark and related species have been listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as threatened with extinction on a global scale.

3. What would happen to the oceans if the shark populations decrease sharply?
  • Sharks are very important in maintaining a balance in marine ecosystems.
  • Sharks not only eat fish but also marine mammals, keeping numbers of these predators in check. Great white shark in South Africa target Cape fur seals for example.
  • As scavengers, sharks also remove dead and dying animals from the system, which may reduce the spread of disease.

4. Why should people stop eating shark fins?
  • As with other wildlife or food trades, we seek a balance between our consumption of natural resources and the continued existence of healthy natural ecosystems.
  • WWF recognises and respects that the consumption of shark fins or meat has cultural significance to some communities. However, the maintenance of such traditions will clearly be dependent on a move to obtain shark products from sustainable sources.
  • Like all other problematic fisheries most shark fisheries are poorly-managed, and may include illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, putting an increasing number of species at risk of extinction.
  • Although not all species are at risk, it can be very difficult for consumers in Hong Kong to distinguish where the shark parts come from, whether they are from threatened species, and whether the fishery they came from is sustainably managed. It is for this reason that we recommend people as a general rule to avoid all shark products
  • Sharks have existed on this planet for 400 million years, but populations have been decimated in less than 100 years! We have a responsibility to future generations to ensure these masters of the ocean are not obliterated due to our thoughtlessness.
5. Why is the problem getting more serious?
  • Shark fin is often the most lucrative part of a shark due to the high demand from Asia. The recent economic boom in China has resulted in an increase in the popularity of shark-fin dishes.
  • The increase in demand for shark has also been driven by increasing demand for shark meat in other parts of the world, on occasion because other large fishes have become scarce.
6. How have international organisations reacted to declining shark populations?
  • Although sharks have been harvested for centuries for their fins, meat or curios items (teeth and jaws), it was not until the last few decades that the scientific community started to seriously study shark population trends, and to spread the message about the plight of sharks in the wild.
  • The number of threatened shark species listed on the IUCN Red List has increased 12 fold in just 15 years. This is partly due to the increasing interest by scientists to assess shark species for the Red List, but also reflects ongoing declines in some shark populations.
    Year No. of Threatened shark and
    related species on IUCN Red List
    1996 15
    2000 19
    2004 82
    2007 114
    2008 126
    2010 181
  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has listed 10 species of sharks or related species within the last 5 years for protection.
    Year No of listing on CITES
    2002 2
    2004 3
    2007 10
7. Are there any sustainable shark fisheries in the world?
  • Yes, in 2011, a fishery for spiny dogfish in British Columbia was certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), making it the world’s first MSC shark fishery,of which meat and lower-grade fin are products.
  • The MSC is an independent non-profit organization and the MSC assessment programme requires healthy fish stocks, minimal ecosystem impacts, and an effective fisheries management system. WWF believes that the MSC is the only credible eco-label currently available for wild capture fisheries.
  • However, this is only one small fishery in global terms, and the development of sustainable fisheries for sharks is likely to be far too slow to effectively conserve shark populations in most parts of the world. Other actions will be necessary to conserve sharks. Furthermore, WWF believes that current and future levels of demand for shark fins are likely to be far higher than can be met from sustainably managed fisheries. Given the dire future facing sharks, it is critical that the consumption of shark fins in key markets like Hong Kong is greatly reduced, to minimize this major economic incentive for fishers to target sharks.
8. How can consumers verify if a shark product is really coming from a sustainable source?
  • MSC is the only credible eco-label currently available for wild capture fisheries. MSC product should carry an MSC label and with intact packaging. The label should carry the Chain of Custody (CoC) certificate number by which the customer can trace the origin of the product.
  • WWF is not aware that such a product is available in Hong Kong yet, but even if it becomes available, will continue to strongly recommend that businesses, individuals and Government stop eating all non-MSC shark fin.
9. How can you help?
  • Understand that sharks are not our enemies, but an integral part of life on Earth. For a living planet, stop consuming shark fins unless they are known to come from sustainably-managed fisheries, and legal trade.
  • If you are unsure, simply do not eat shark fin or other shark products. Your action will certainly help to rescue certain shark species from extinction and push for improvements in the overall shark fisheries and related trades. Help spread the word by explaining your actions to others.
10. What is WWF going to do next?
  • In Hong Kong, WWF will continue to raise consumer awareness; engage individuals and corporate consumers to stop eating non-MSC shark fin to help conserve sharks. We will also encourage restaurants to use shark-fin substitutes to replace real shark fin.
  • In other parts of the world including Africa, America, Asia, and Europe, WWF works with fishermen, governments and other stakeholders to formulate management plans that should lead to sustainable shark fisheries.
  • WWF will continue to advocate for sustainable shark fisheries management using a certification system. The Marine Stewardship Council eco-labelling is a credible system not only helps to maintain healthy shark populations, but also provides for reliable tracking of products from the certified fishery.

Contact information

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