Sharks play an essential rol in the health of our oceans

Information, News

And where does YOUR tuna come from?


Sharks are lifted off the boat by a crane. Photograph: Johnny Langenheim


Many people tend to see shark finning and  targeted shark fishing as the most important cause for the decline of shark populations worldwide. They do not support shark fishing, do not eat shark fin soup, but do eat tuna steaks, tuna sushi or tuna salad.

But just as all ecosystems are interlinked, so are ‘fishing systems’.  Longlines catch many fish and shark species, and tuna longlines catch sharks. For the tuna fishers, these sharks were always technically bycatch, but got more and and more important: their  fins are valuable, and with the decline of other fish stocks, their meat is sold as food. Indonesia is one of the countries that catches most sharks. And the Indonesian fishermen have no intention to stop what they are doing. “Many conservation efforts have focused on small-scale artisanal fisheries,” says Andrew Harvey, the Sustainable Fisheries team leader for USAid’s Indonesia Marine & Climate Support (IMACS) project. “But the industrial fishing fleets also have an important impact on shark populations.

The big problem is a total lack of management regulations for most shark species — no catch quotas, no minimum sizes, and no fishing bans.”

Indonesia catches on average 109,000 tonnes of shark per year, giving it the dubious distinction of being the world’s biggest shark fishery. And it’s the country’s tuna industry that’s largely responsible for driving it. Shark flesh is an important source of protein for many coastal communities in Indonesia and the meat is sold everywhere including in supermarkets. There are also signs of an upsurge in the sale of baby sharks, which are routinely stocked by many of the big supermarket chains. Sharks have long reproductive cycles so targeting juveniles can have a destructive impact on wild populations.


Sharks are displayed at Lampulo fish market at Indonesia's Aceh province

Sharks at the fish market in Aceh (picture: Reuters)


According to Andrew Harvey, Indonesia signed the United Nations International Plan for Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks in 1999, and has been developing a national plan of action ever since. But only whale shark, thresher and saw tooth are protected under Indonesian law (Cites protection only applies to the export of endangered species). Hammerheads and oceanic white tips should soon follow suit.

These are all first steps – gathering and assessing baseline data, establishing policies, protecting a few key ecosystems. But the big challenge is enforcement in a maritime nation made up of more than 17,000 islands where tens of millions of people rely on fishing for their livelihood.

Live sharks can be worth more than dead sharks, and it’s no coincidence that two of Indonesia’s top dive destinations are leading the way in shark protection. Bottom-up initiatives like these – driven by conservation minded dive operators, NGOs and local government – are making a difference in coastal areas and amongst small scale artisanal fishing communities.

“But who is championing the fight further offshore, where large scale industrial tuna fleets are landing scores of sharks every day?” asks Harvey.

Protection of sharks, let alone a countrywide ban on shark fishing is a long way away. Until then, unless you’re buying pole & line caught tuna certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, those dead baby sharks may as well be sitting on our supermarket shelves.



Comments are closed.

Contact info

You can contact us at +31 (0) 6 12195593 Or per email at:

Privacy Statement

Read our privacy statement here

Partner organisations

De Dutch Shark Society is proud to be a partner of several organisations. Check out our Mission page!
Show Buttons
Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Pinterest
Contact us
Hide Buttons