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Dispatch from Sri Lanka: Observing the Trade of Oceanic Whitetip Sharks in a Local Fish Market

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Dispatches from Sri Lanka

By KerriLynn Miller

The countdown to the next Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora meeting in Bangkok has begun. With less than a month until the meeting starts, The Pew Charitable Trusts is focused on raising awareness about the shark and manta ray species that have been proposed for inclusion in the convention’s Appendix II. Recently, Pew coordinated a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to provide background on the proposals, demonstrate identification of shark and manta products in trade, and answer questions. Included in the meeting was a trip to the fish market in Negombo, roughly 35 km north of Colombo, and one of the largest fish markets in Sri Lanka.

The fish market comes to life at 3 a.m., so by the time we arrive at 6 a.m., it is in full swing. The road splits the market in half with smaller fish, prawns, and other animals on one side; the larger fish, tuna, sharks, and rays on the other. Looking for sharks and manta rays, we head off to see which species were landed today.

The fish market holds plenty of mobula rays, but no manta rays.

Fish market in Sri Lanka

The mobula rays have been split apart showing that the gill plates, the valuable part of the ray, have already been removed.

Split mobula rays

There are about 14 sharks today, one of which is an oceanic whitetip

Oceanic whitetip shark

The meat from sharks is sold first and used domestically.

Shark meat for sale

The fins, which can be sold wet or dry, are for international markets fetching a much higher price.

Shark fins for sale

Watching crows peck at the meat, it is obvious the meat from rays, similar to that of sharks, is of little value in the market and is often dried and sold at a later time. Shark meat is sold between US$1.60-2.35 per kg fresh depending on availability and US$1.40 per kg if it is dried. In comparison, tuna meat sells for US$3.50 per kg and sailfish for US$5.50 per kg. Shark fins, on the other hand, usually sell around US$80.00 a set and are traded internationally.

From this glimpse into the life at the fish market, meat from sharks and rays is a byproduct consumed domestically, often as dried fish. The fins and gill plates are the commodity that is traded internationally. While manta rays were not at the market today, they are often found here along with the oceanic whitetip sharks. Oceanic whitetip sharks and manta rays have experienced drastic population declines in large part due to the demand for their products in international trade, which is why countries have proposed to include these species in Appendix II of the convention. Appendix II regulates international trade by requiring it to be legal and sustainable. It is not a ban on trade and doesn’t affect use of a species within national jurisdiction. By voting yes to include these species in Appendix II, countries are helping to ensure the possibility that they may be around for use by future generations.

 

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