By Dominique Maingot
It is estimated that over 100 million sharks are killed each year by unsustainable fishing methods, some leading to their entanglement in nets as bycatch or the direct targeting of their fins. Despite the EU’s passing of a regional agreement on shark conservation and management in 2009, and additional species listings under annexes to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), unregulated protections and species-specific management approaches continue to enable loopholes for shark fin trading worldwide.
With the help of its dedicated volunteers and scientists, Fin Fighters, a UK-based conservation organization, is working diligently to understand these issues in areas where data on illegal shark catches and genetic populations remain quite limited.
For the past two years, Fin Fighters has been conducting research in Morocco through its Citizen Shark Science (CSS) program, (supported by young people aged 23-27), in order to apply a solution-based approach to shark and ray protection. As part of its ongoing educational initiative, Fin Fighters engages local fishermen and CSS volunteers by training them in DNA collection methods on sharks and rays landed in local ports. So far, over 400 genetic samples have been gathered and their application in scientific studies will soon serve as a baseline for research comparisons in the future.
Over the next three years, it is hoped that by increasing awareness on sustainable fishing practices and laws, illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing levels in the region will decrease. By using the DNA samples collected by Fin Fighters, data indicators, such as genetic bottlenecking or reductions in genetic diversity should also indicate whether or not shark and ray populations in this area are improving.
Back in the UK, Fin Fighters’ city-wide approach to education has already begun building public and political support against the sale and distribution of shark fins. In 2013, Fin Free Cambridge was the first of its campaigns to gain city council approval, and other ongoing efforts across Bath and Bristol are just part of the bigger picture to eventually ban shark fin trading in the UK by 2023.
Unfortunately, the shark finning and gill raker trades continue to exist in many other parts of the world where little is either known or recorded by the scientific community. By connecting with funders, local-based NGOs, and global partners like the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Fin Fighters can begin expanding its extension project in Costa Rica, with similar initiatives in Mozambique and Indonesia soon to follow.
Dominique Maingot is a Project Officer with the Youth Solutions Initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and analyst for the Youth Solutions Report showcasing 50 youth-led projects on sustainable development. With a background in law and environmental organizations, Dominique is especially interested in creating and sharing solutions on some of the world’s biggest challenges.
Fin Fighters is one of 50 sustainable development projects featured in the Youth Solutions Report – a new report by the youth initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. To learn more, visit youthsolutions.report