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The population dynamics of sharks are not well known, in particular their biology and stock assessment, except for certain species. In general many shark species are particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation due to their biological characteristic of low reproductive potential and therefore limited capacity to recover from overfishing. Over the last twenty years the increase in demand for and value of fins and cartilage and the expansion of the market for shark meat have caused a consistent growth of recreational and commercial shark fisheries. At the same time, a growing international concern over the possible effects of this continued exploitation on marine food chains is emerging together with the need for improving the available information on shark species and their utilization. Some species have been classified as endangered and a few governments have implemented protection measures. Interest in a more co-ordinated international action culminated in the adoption of an “International Plan of Action for the conservation and management of sharks” at the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in February 1999.

The need to collect more information on biological and trade data on shark species has led FAO to undertake various technical studies on sharks and other cartilaginous fish, including their biology and utilization. This document has been prepared in this framework and updates the FAO/UNCTAD/GATT book “Shark utilization and marketing”, authors R. Kreuzer and R. Ahmed, issued in 1978. This study is financed under project GCP/INT/643/JPN-Component 5 "Biological and Trade Status of Sharks".

This technical paper provides a comprehensive and timely report on shark products in trade and identifies regional and worldwide trends in demand and supply. It is divided in a world overview, with selected country focuses, written by Ms Stefania Vannuccini, consultant of the FAO Fish Utilization and Marketing Service (FIIU), and in various Appendixes that, with the exception of Appendix I, have been written by experts external to FAO. Many interesting sections of these appendixes have been included in the main document, in particular in the chapters describing shark products.

Appendix I reports the International Plan of Action for the conservation and management of sharks that has been approved during the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in February 1999. The other appendixes have been prepared by different consultants. Ms Sei Poh Chen (Malaysia) is the author of Appendix II which focuses on individual countries, their commercially important shark species and their utilization. In Appendix III Mr Hooi Kok Kuang (Singapore) analyses non-food uses of sharks as cartilage and liver oil. The studies covered under appendix IV are country and regional analysis: Mr Hooi Kok Kuang wrote on Hong Kong, Ms Sei Poh Chen on Singapore and Malaysia, Mr R.A.M. Varma (India) on India, INFOYU on China, Mr Santiago Caro Ros of INFOPESCA on Latin America, Mr Massimo Spagnolo (Italy) on the Mediterranean and Mr O. Abobarin, Mr O.K.L. Drammieh and Mr M. Njie on Gambia and Ghana.

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