Every morning, hundreds of shark bodies and thousands of shark fins are sold on the Pacific coast of Ecuador. Although the targeted shark fishing remains illegal, the presidential decree from 2007 allows free trade of sharks from accidental by-catch and commercialisation of shark fins. However, most of the shark species fished in Ecuadorean waters (tresher shark, hammerhead shark, whitetip shark,…) are considered as “vulnerable to extinction” by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Reproducing infrequently (only one pup per year) and reaching maturity slowly (up to fifteen years), it makes very difficult for the shark population to recover from uncontrolled overfishing. In the past two decades, many hunted sharks species have declined 80 percent due to excessive fishing.
Although shark fishing barely sustains the livelihoods of many poor fishermen on the Ecuadorean at the end of the shark fins business chain they are sold as the most expensive seafood item in the world. The Ecuadorean shark fins are sold primarily to Hong Kong, the international hub for the shark fin trade, but might also be exported to Taiwan and China. In Asia, the shark's fin soup is believed to boost sexual potency, prevent heart diseases and increase vitality. The soup, a largely tasteless dish that can sell for 100 USD a bowl, is considered a high class status symbol in Chinese culture. Rapid economic growth across Asia in recent years have allowed many Chinese to afford the dish and therefore the demand for the shark fins has dramatically increased worldwide. Many shark species populations have appeared on the road to extinction.
Photography by Jan Sochor
Sound recorded by Jan Sochor