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Friends of Fins: Shark Fin ID Workshop During the Fiji Shark Expedition

We are shark researchers. We travel by boat to maximize our time on the water, to explore the reefs and record shark activity around remote islands surrounded by the deep blue. From dawn until dusk, we are fishing—elbow deep in freeze-thawed chunks of fish, oily flesh and watered down blood.  We revel in our ability to interact...

White tip reef sharks cruise near the surface in the protected Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. (Photograph by Andy Mann)

We are shark researchers. We travel by boat to maximize our time on the water, to explore the reefs and record shark activity around remote islands surrounded by the deep blue. From dawn until dusk, we are fishing—elbow deep in freeze-thawed chunks of fish, oily flesh and watered down blood. 

Photo of Tuna as bait in Fiji
By the end of the Fiji Shark Expedition, nearly one ton of bait will have been used to attract sharks. Mark Bond prepares tuna as chum off of Kadavu Island, Fiji. (Photograph by Andy Mann)

We revel in our ability to interact with communities and governments and we are excited that our work may be useful in the sustainable management of local resources. To be honest, it may seem like we have an inflated sense of self-importance. But luckily, we know that while research, policy and management plans are useful shark conservation tools, they are only as good as the people who enforce them.

And no one knows this better than our fearless leader Dr. Demian Chapman and his wife Debra Abercrombie, who have found a way to identify critically important species of dried shark fins—and who are working hard to ensure the world’s enforcement officers learn too.

Why Shark Fin ID Workshops are Needed

As Demian describes in his own words: “In September of this year border control personnel all over the globe will begin looking at the shark fins in trade for the first time. This is because five shark species have been listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It will be illegal to trade fins of these species without certification they came from sustainable fisheries, which is impossible for many of them—oceanic whitetips, three species of hammerheads and porbeagles—because they are simply too depleted for any trade to be allowed. If CITES functions as it is intended, the trade in fins of these species should drop to levels that will allow them to recover. There, of course, lies the rub.

Border control personnel will have to be able to recognize fins from these species among millions of fins in [the shark fin] trade. Without proper training these frontline officers won’t be able to do this and there is little chance that CITES will really have any real bite.”

Photo of trained shark fin ID experts in Fiji
A group of newly trained Shark Fin ID experts, ready to enforce the new CITES regulations in Fiji. (Photograph courtesy of Demian Chapman)

“For the past two years my wife and I have been training people how to identify shark fins. I like to say that she is the brain of the operation, having developed the content, and I am the mouth, presenting it to the people who need it. Since Fiji is a major stopover for Pacific shark fins headed to Asia this research cruise has provided us with the opportunity reach some key people: Fiji’s Biosecurity officers.”

Photo of Biosecurity officers with dried shark fins in Fiji
Biosecurity officers in Fiji excitedly show their dried shark fins with Dr. Demian Chapman. (Photograph courtesy of Demian Chapman)

“I recently held classes with nearly 100 attendees in Nadi and Suva, Fiji and showed them some of the features that separate the fins of CITES species from legal species. These biosecurity officers will play a central role in enforcing the new regulations and their interest and enthusiasm to fills me with hope for the sharks of the Pacific. If similar agencies around the world are the same then CITES may have some teeth after all.”

Photo of shark fin ID workshop workers Fiji
Biosecurity officers snap photos of dried shark fins during the shark fin ID workshop in Fiji this month. (Photograph by Demian Chapman)
Photo of Shark Fin ID participants in Fiji
Dr. Demian Chapman and a few of the customs and biosecurity officers holding shark fins after their shark fin ID workshop in Suva, Fiji (Photograph courtesy of Demian Chapman)

Together We CAN Make a Difference

We all know that sharks are vulnerable to over fishing and the shark fin trade is largely responsible for the depletion of many iconic species of pelagic sharks such as hammerheads and oceanic whitetips. Yet it’s exciting to see that this year various sectors of government are working together with folks like Demian and Debra to put the brakes on this harmful trade.

“Future generations may look back on 2014 and say that it was the year that this all changed” said Demian. We’re only a few months into the year, but I already echo the sentiment, knowing that every CITES country will hold similar workshops. So many new pairs of eyes looking into shark conservation…as a part of their job!

Let’s keep pushing for sustainable management of sharks and work together to put an end to shark finning.

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Meet the Author

Jess Cramp
Jess Cramp is a scientist, surfer, diver, pilot, writer and conservationist whose philanthropic adventures have taken her from a field hospital in post-earthquake Haiti to a rural mountain village in Guatemala. She spent the past 3 years in the Cook Islands, spearheading the establishment of the Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary, legislated in December 2012. Currently without a permanent address, Jess is in a different country every month and in the ocean as much as possible. She splits her time between assisting the Cook Islands government in establishing a large-scale marine park, leading marine research expeditions throughout the Pacific, and helping her own burgeoning organization, Sharks Pacific, to become a key player in community-based shark research and conservation. She smiles a lot. Instagram: @bunchofbullshark (coming soon!)