‘Reach out to the shark consumers’

National 2 minutes, 22 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

BRUNEI should reach out to consumers of shark products in a move to end the country’s illegal shark trade, urged a marine conservationist.

John Lu, organiser of the ‘I’m Finished with Fins’ campaign across Asia, said there is a need for greater awareness of shark conservation with efforts directed towards the Chinese demographic, which make up 10.2 per cent of the population.

“The main consumers of shark fins or shark products are still the Chinese,” he said during a recent visit to the sultanate, adding that shark fin soup is a traditional dish in their culture.

Brunei made headlines in 2014 when it became the first country in Asia to adopt a total ban on the catch, sale and import of sharks. However, the illegal shark trade continued to thrive with several major supermarket chains and fish markets implicated in media reports.

Lu, who is also head of special projects at Singapore’s largest environmental NGO Avelife, stressed action must be taken to address the demand for shark products.

“My philosophy is you can spend a lot of time trying to work on the supply side, but it’s futile. It’s very expensive and also highly inefficient. If you work with people financing the industry, you can change things very quickly,” he said.

He said the power of direct consumer action can help to stamp out illegal shark trading in the sultanate.

“You teach consumers what to buy and what not to buy. Teach them to think for themselves... If we spend time talking with people who are eating shark fin soup, we can fix the problem from the other side. It might be more efficient,” he said.

Despite the established practice of consuming shark fin soup, Lu believed awareness can influence public opinion to turn the tide against such cultural customs.

“There is no lost cause... I want to encourage everybody that there is hope. People are capable of changing their habits even if it’s cultural. They’re willing to rethink and they’re willing to accept other ideas,” he said.

While it is necessary to educate the consumers, he explained the wider public share equal responsibility in shark conservation.

“The problem or solution is not just on the Chinese focus. Bruneians also have a part to play in it, because sharks have a direct link to overall oceanic health. If you don’t have sharks, everything else is going to suffer,” he said.

Sharks play an important role as apex predators in maintaining a balanced ecosystem, but many of its species are endangered as a result of overfishing and overconsumption.

Under the Fisheries Order 2009, shark trade offenders can be fined up to $1,000 by the Fisheries Department or face prosecution in court with a maximum penalty of $10,000 or sentenced to one year imprisonment, or both.

The Brunei Times