The discovery of 17 shark carcasses discarded in a landfill in Chile shows that the cruel practice of shark finning may be on the rise up and down South America’s Pacific Coast.
The bodies of the 17 mako sharks were found in mid-November at an illegal landfill in the northern Antofagasta region, with their heads and tail fins cut off and their other fins intact. The discovery has investigators stumped as to whether this is a case of overfishing or finning.
While mako sharks can be legally captured and sold for human consumption in the country, environmentally irresponsible practices, such as unregulated fishing or finning, are illegal.
Finning is a practice in which the fins are cut off and the shark is tossed back into the ocean to die. Nevertheless, it is big business. According to the conservationist group Shark Allies, fins go for around $450 per 500 grams in Asian countries. Allegedly helping to boost the immune system, shark fins are considered to be a delicacy in China and other Asian countries.
Chile has a history with shark finning. In 2018, the fins of about 100 sharks were found drying in the sun on the roof of a building belonging to the Vietnamese embassy in Chile. And despite a severe crackdown on the trade in China, demand from Asia may continue to drive Chilean fishermen toward shark finning.
“If I was a fisherman and I had a relatively small boat with limited space, if I could choose between filling it with fins or shark bodies, I would fill them with fins as they are worth much more,” said Francisco Concha, a professor of maritime sciences at the University of Valparaíso, in an interview with news portal Ladera Sur.
In response to this threat, non-governmental organizations began organizing training sessions last February for shark fishermen in Chile to help make their operations sustainable.
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While the origin of the 17 mako sharks found on a Chilean landfill is still uncertain, it is highly likely their fins were taken to feed demand in Asian nations.
Other countries in the Americas are struggling with the same problem. In May, authorities seized a shipment from Ecuador with 26 tons of illegal shark fins in Hong Kong, China, valued at $1.1 million. In January 2020, a cargo plane bound for Asia stopped at Miami International Airport, where wildlife inspectors made one of the largest-ever in-transit shark fin seizures.
China’s fishing fleet has also recently been involved in predatory fishing practices in waters belonging to Chile and other Latin American nations. In November, the Chilean foreign ministry issued a joint statement along with Ecuador, Peru and Colombia condemning illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices by foreign vessels along South America’s Pacific Coast.
While the Chinese fleet was primarily seeking to capture squid, hammerhead, silky and pelagic thresher sharks were all among the species accidentally caught in its nets.
And according to Interpol, one of the ripple effects of IUU fishing is that fishermen who follow local regulations are placed at a disadvantage and be pushed toward illegal practices. The fact that the 17 mako sharks in Chile were found on dry land suggests that local Chilean fishermen were involved.
The lure of shark finning can also be attractive for transnational criminal operations. In September, US authorities dismantled a multi-million-dollar money laundering, drug trafficking, illegal wildlife trade and shark finning ring. During the multiple arrests made nationwide, US agents seized more than six tons of shark fins.
Following the operation, a press release issued by the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Georgia quoted Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer as saying, “it’s a sad day when not even the sharks in the ocean are safe from the greed of criminal organizations.”