WWF Calls for Ban in Trade of Great White Sharks
HONG KONG A leading environmental group called Friday for protection for the great white shark and humphead wrasse coral fish, whose numbers have plunged because of overfishing and China's growing appetite for exotic foods.
The urgent call, made ahead of a U.N. conference on endangered species in Bangkok, also covers Asian freshwater turtles, the yellow-crested cockatoo and the plants cistanche and agarwood.
Officials of the WWF global conservation group in Hong Kong called for the six species to be urgently listed in the appendixes of a U.N. environment charter, saying there was no time to waste.
"The humphead wrasse live in colonies so when they are caught, they are caught in schools. When that happens, whole colonies disappear," Clarus Chu, WWF assistant conservation officer, told a news conference.
"In many places, like the Philippines, hunters are using cyanide to stun the fish, that not only depletes its population but wrecks coral reefs too," he added.
Bangkok is hosting a gathering next month of signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The convention lists plants and animals depending on how endangered they are, with those listed on appendix 1 the most endangered and banned from trade with few exceptions.
The wrasse is mainly exported by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines and up to 60 percent of shipments end up in Hong Kong, where roughly half the amount is then re-exported to increasingly affluent mainland China. Hong Kong imported 46 tons of the fish in 2003, which fetches up to $141 per kg.
WWF also called for a halt to hunting of the great white shark, whose fins are a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and its jaws and teeth are sold as ornaments at huge profit the world over.
"Both species of fish (wrasse and shark) are being caught in substantial numbers ... but they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation due to their slow growth, low reproductive rate, long gestation periods and late maturity," Chu said.
Growing affluence in China, a country whose passion for exotic food is legendary, has become a huge problem for animal stocks in the wild.
With China depleting its own populations of wild game, turtles, fish, snakes and many other species, developing countries in Asia have risen eagerly to the challenge of feeding China's ever-increasing demand, particularly in the south.
Environmentalists say 12 to 13 new species have had to be listed on CITES' appendixes in the past two years because of China's food trade.
The WWF also cautioned about rising trade in the cockatoo, which is being hunted by hobbyists in China as pets.
It also called for a halt in the use of cistanche and agarwood, plants that are used in many Chinese medicines. The agarwood is also highly coveted in the Middle East for its scent and fetches up to $2,050) per 37.5 grams.