Addressing unsustainable legal and illegal trade in shark and ray products


To tackle unsustainable [legal] and illegal wildlife trade through research, policy and corporate sector engagement


The illegal wildlife trade and the illegal hunting that it drives are having a devastating effect on terrestrial and marine species, including many of particular importance to WCS. Elephants, tigers and other big cats, rhinos, birds such as parrots and macaws, freshwater turtles, tortoises, pangolins, sharks and rays are all facing very significant threats from trafficking due to the demand for entire animals and/or their parts. This, in turn, is facilitated by other factors including corruption and weak governance along the trade chain.The global scale of the illegal wildlife trade enables the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases, provides revenue for organized crime syndicates and militias in some cases (and potentially for terrorist groups in some circumstances), and is thus increasingly recognized as a national and local security threat. At the local level, the breakdown in rule of law exacerbates local conflict and undermines local livelihoods. The current global political climate for addressing these issues is highly favorable, but efforts to translate this momentum into solid action in many countries are still hampered by weak national capacity, low political will, and persistent corruption that limits the level of transnational cooperation needed to dismantle international organized criminal syndicates.

How is this being implemented?

Acknowledging these challenges and opportunities, the Wildlife Conservation Society takes an integrated approach to improving the status of sharks and rays in the South East Asia Archipelago. Our overarching strategies focus on species protection, habitat conservation, fisheries management and trade control. We work on policy reform at national and local levels, to build institutional frameworks for shark conservation and management. We then support the implementation of these frameworks in the field through community engagement, law enforcement and capacity building, with interventions adapted to local context, as informed by applied ecological and socio-economic research. 

Indonesia is home to our most well-established shark and ray program. We currently work at the national-level on CITES implementation and tackling illegal trade of marine species, and at the local-level in three provinces: Aceh, West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara.

  • In Aceh we are developing marine spatial management approaches to reduce incidental catch of hammerhead sharks and protect critical habitat.
  • In West Nusa Tenggara we are using landings data to develop fisheries management approaches for improving the sustainability of a targeted shark fishery.
  • In East Nusa Tenggara we are implementing an integrated law enforcement and livelihoods-based incentives approach for tackling illegal fishing and trade of manta rays 

In Malaysia, we are working in Sarawak to better understand shark and ray fisheries and trade chains through landings and market surveys, and working with the government to expand marine spatial protection for critical marine megafauna. 

In Singapore, through supply chain investigations and traceability system assessments of shark and ray products, WCS aims to understand the flow of shark and ray products; the stakeholders and entities involved; and the current traceability systems and legal requirements in place within different steps of the supply chain. The research will generate targeted recommendations for traceability improvement as a tool to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and improve CITES implementation. In addition, DNA barcoding and 16S rRNA sequencing of traded shark fins, shark meat and mobulid gill plates will be used to improve knowledge of shark and ray species in domestic trade.

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