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Vannuccini, S.
Shark utilization, marketing and trade.
FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 389. Rome, FAO. 1999. 470p.

Sharks belong to the Chondrichthyes class, together with skates, rays and chimaeras and are found throughout the world in a wide variety of habitats and employing many biological strategies. Though sharks make up only a small percentage of the world’s recorded fish landings, they are extremely versatile and are a valuable resource. They are of primary importance in some regions of the world, sustaining important fisheries in some countries. Moreover, they have been, and are, a cheap but valuable source of protein for coastal communities dependent on subsistence fisheries. Humans can utilize much of the carcass for food or other uses. Sharks are exploited for their meat, fins, skin, liver, teeth, cartilage and other internal organs.

Shark flesh is used for meat which is highly favoured in some regions, most particularly in Europe with northern Italy and France as the major consuming countries and Spain as the world’s largest exporter of shark meat. Meat is a high protein, low fat product; healthy as long as those specimens with a high mercury content are avoided. Shark intestines and skin are also eaten, chiefly in some Asian countries. Shark skin is used to make leather and sandpaper. Shark liver oil is used in the textile and leather industries, as a medicine and health supplement, as an ingredient of cosmetics and as a lubricant. This is not a negligeable use of shark as between 2 500 and 3 000 specimens are required to make one tonne of shark liver oil. Production of shark cartilage products is a growing industry in shark processing, as the cartilage is being advocated as a cure for many conditions, particularly those associated with old age but also includes cancer and even AIDS. Even shark teeth and “bones” are made into curios and any discarded parts of the carcass can be made into fishmeal and fertilizer. Shark fin is one of the costliest marine commodities and is used as a soup ingredient in communities of Chinese origin all over the world. China is the world’s largest producer and trader in shark fin. Hong Kong appears to have out-sourced much of its processing of shark fin to China, taking advantage of the lower labour costs, however it remains the most important market in shark fin. The world trade figures for shark fin almost certainly include some double counting, as fins are frequently re-exported after further processing. It is surmised that improved techniques in the processing of shark fin, developed because of the exorbitant price of this commodity, have led to a reduction in the amount of raw material required to produce soup. It is interesting to note that the liberal use of salt in the preparation of shark fin, which the Chinese consumers complained about, is recommended in the section on preparation in the appendix IV.3 on the Indian shark industry.

It is not possible to make all these uses of each shark, as the methods of preservation and preparation are often mutually exclusive and not all species of shark are suitable for every application. This report details the species used and the methods of preparation for the various purposes: meat, fins, liver oil, skins, cartilage and other uses. Contributions from East Asia, reported in the Appendixes contain many photographs of the fins traded and identify the species they belong to, using their local names and allocating the scientific name where possible. The nomenclature of shark, not only the common names and the names of processed parts, but even the scientific names, where multiple synonyms exist, only add to the confusion when trying to collect or assess data.

This publication brings together information from those parts of the world where sharks are important economically, as a substantial fisheries sector, a contribution to human food or a valuable trading item, with the latest statistics available, and with those on a world-wide basis from FAO. When comparing published statistics it is noticeable that few individual species are itemized and that there are significant discrepancies between available sources.


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