Every day in China, shark fin enthusiasts gobble down an eye-popping $16 million (Dh58.72 million) worth of a rare delicacy. At some luxury hotels in Beijing, a single bowl of shark fin soup will set you back 1,800 yuan, or Dh1,053. And in the Chinese capital an estimated 52,500 kilograms of the fishy treat is chomped, slurped or chewed each week - enough to stuff 60 pickup trucks.
Given such an appetite, it's no wonder fishermen are pulling sharks out of the sea with an abandon that regulators have been unable to curb. As The National reported yesterday, regulations on the shark fishing trade have done little to curb a lucrative if ecologically destructive business.
Since 2008, it has been technically illegal to fish sharks off the UAE coast for the first four months of the year. But as UAE doctoral student Rima Jabado told a shark conservation conference in Dubai this week, the law is frequently ignored. Fish markets across the Emirates sell sharks caught in the Gulf year-round, including threatened species.
Tackling this problem will require more than a change in diets. The most immediate place to start, from a regulatory and enforcement standpoint, is at the point of sale. Inspectors are desperately needed in markets and docks, to dole out fines and confiscate fishing gear. The calculation for fishermen now seems to be that rewards outweigh risks.
Putting an end to illegal shark hunts will require a change in management strategies. New rules banning the sale and export of the endangered scalloped hammerhead, detailed in our pages today, must be heeded. It is also time to re-evaluate the allocation of commercial fishing licences. In many parts of the world sensitive fish stocks are monitored closely, and commercial fishermen pay a premium to work - thousands of dollars in many cases - which encourages legal fishermen to self-police. No fisherman abiding by the rules will take kindly to poachers.
Ultimately, the best method for reducing the assault on sharks will be to take them off the menu. China, for one, is doing that to a degree, banning shark fin soup at state banquets, for instance.
But where markets exist, fishermen will always find a way. Regulators in the UAE must be equally savvy.