Global shark catch levels have more than doubled since 1960 and populations of some shark species have declined by over 90% because of wealthy Chinese consumers’ appetite for shark fin soup. Scientists ask consumers to reject the luxury dish and for authorities to protect sharks more effectively.

As luxury consumer markets in wildlife grow, many of the desired species targeted are declining, with some at elevated risk of local or even global extinction unless their trade networks are controlled and the necessary laws and regulations established and enforced. Application of the precautionary principle is strongly called for. The well-documented international trade in shark fins for high-end seafood consumption, selected as an illustrative case study, is no exception. For shark fins, and other threatened luxury wildlife, only a tiny proportion could be managed sustainably, much of the international trade is uncontrolled or currently uncontrollable, laundering and poaching are rife, criminal networks are often involved and there is scant government or consumer appetite in major demand centres pushing for sustainable and legal trade. In the case of shark fins, the sourcing of which is the major driver of shark overfishing, it is proposed to be taken off the menu before further declines in shark populations, and possible extinctions, occur, or until exploitation (including bycatch) and trade in fins is controlled to within their biological limits.

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