What Brown Can Do for Sharks: Stop Shipping Their Fins

The world’s biggest package delivery service ends its role in the global fin trade amid concerns over illegal and unsustainable fishing.
Shark fins drying in the Philippines. (Photo: Courtesy Jürgen Freund/WWF)
Aug 19, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

The world’s largest package delivery company is making a big move for endangered sharks.

United Parcel Service announced via Twitter late Tuesday that it would no longer transport shark fins.

The move, which went into effect immediately, may contribute to saving shark species worldwide from being hunted to extinction.

UPS has been under growing public pressure in recent weeks to end its shipping of shark fins. An online petition has gathered more than 177,000 signatures, and activists have been touting plans for protests at UPS regional headquarters and service centers around the world.

The company approached the World Wildlife Fund for more information on the legality of shark fin shipments, as well as the lack of accountability, traceability, and monitoring within the industry and the impacts of overfishing of sharks on marine ecosystems, said Ben Freitas, a wildlife trade program officer with WWF.

“We discussed that more than half of the 39 shark species targeted for their fins are [at risk of] extinction. There are serious concerns about the sustainable management of those fisheries, as well as illegal fishing,” Freitas said.

Ater its dorsal fin was cut off, this gray reef shark in the waters off Northern Cebu, the Philippines, was thrown overboard to die. (Photo: Courtesy Jürgen Freund/WWF)

In an email to TakePart, UPS said the company had made the decision “due to concerns about the enforcement capabilities of the authorities and potential inaccuracy of visual inspection used by experts as part of the CITES certification process.”

CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is an international agreement regulating cross-border sales of products derived from wild animals and plants at risk of going extinct.

“UPS is also concerned about the broader ecosystem impact due to species depletion and the sustainability of fisheries, as demonstrated by WWF,” said UPS spokesperson Kristen A. Petrella in an email.

Supplying shark fins has become a lucrative international business over the past few decades as the growing wealth of the average Chinese citizen caused a spike in demand for a luxury dish called shark fin soup. “It’s estimated that up to 73 million sharks are killed for the fin trade alone annually,” said Freitas. “Other NGOs have put forth estimates that it’s worth about $450 million to $1 billion annually.”

Those earnings concentrate in the hands of the exporters and retailers that supply restaurants in China and other parts of Asia with shark fins. “Fishermen are typically paid less than four times what the fins are worth,” Freitas said. “The values are so high that it’s become an illicit wildlife crime issue as well.”

Although there have been signs in the past few years that younger Chinese citizens are rejecting the conspicuous consumption of shark fins, conservationists believe the trade’s devastating overall impact on the number of sharks worldwide has not changed.

It is too early to know what direct impact the new UPS policy may have on the survival of sharks, said Freitas, adding that while his group has been working with an international shipping trade group to curtail transportation of shark fins, “WWF’s main concern is the absence of adequate, responsive management for shark fisheries. That’s where we’re trying to drive the most change.”