I am the lead author of a new study In Hot Soup: Sharks Captured in Ecuador’s Waters out in the journal Environmental Sciences. We reconstructed the shark landings for Ecuador from 1976 to 2004 and demonstrated that Ecuador captures more than 3.5 times the number of sharks they officially report catching–or about half a million sharks each year.
The shark fishery of Ecuador is one of many around the world that feeds the growing Asian demand for sharkfin soup. Fishermen catch more than 40 different shark species and one need only visit a few of the fishing ports along the coast to see shark finning in full effect (such as these juvenile hammerheads captured off Santa Rosa).
Yet, until the 2005 update of fisheries data, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) did not report elasmobranches for Ecuador, indicating that the Ecuadorian government failed to report on these species, probably in part due to the scandalous nature of the shark fin industry.
Our study reconstructed Ecuador’s mainland shark landings from the bottom up from 1979 to 2004 using gray literature and shark fin export data. Over this period, shark landings for the Ecuadorian mainland were an estimated 7000 tonnes per year, or nearly half a million sharks. Reconstructed shark landings were about 3.6 times greater than those retroactively reported by FAO from 1991 to 2004.
The discrepancies in data require the urgent implementation of the measures Ecuadorian law mandates: eliminating targeted shark captures, finning, and transshipments, as well as adoption of measures to minimize incidental capture. Most of all, a serious shark landings monitoring system and effective chain of custody standards are needed.