Whale Shark Caught off Fujian, Butchered for Sale on the Street

As reported by news163.com on Friday the 1st of August 2014 a fisherman in Xiangzhi, Fujian province captured a 4.5-meter-long, two-ton whale shark that died soon after its struggle to escape.

The fisherman, Cai Chengzhu, said that as he and his colleagues began to pull their net out from the water, when they spotted a huge hole formed by the “giant fish”. “It’s believed that the giant animal broke the net and got inside to eat the fish we caught,” he said.
Note: the whale shark is the biggest fish in the world, but it’s not a predator and it consumes only microscopic plankton, not large fish as Mr. Cai seems to think.

Image by news163.com
Image by news163.com
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Image by news163.com
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Image by news163.com
fujian-whale shark-7
Image by news163.com

According to commentary by Coconuts Hong Kong,  “plankton flourishes in clean water, the presence of whale sharks is a sign of a healthy ocean area.” As a marine biologist I can pretty safely say that this statement is absolute BS (bovine faeces). Filthy water also has plankton…frequently huge amounts for example toxic algal blooms, jellyfish swarms – their all plankton, too.

The fishery department identified the whale shark, a second-class national protected animal. Regulation states that whale sharks should be set free right away if caught by fishermen. However, Cai transported the whale shark to land with a tractor. He reportedly planned to sell it for 10,000 to 20,000 yuan (about HKD 12,500 – 25,000 or USD 1,600 – 3,200) before he knew what the animal was. It’s illegal to buy or sell whale sharks, the largest known extant fish species. They can live as long as 70 years to 100 years. Whale sharks are classified as vulnerable by the WWF, and threatened by unregulated fishing for their fins and oil.

Cai Chengzu said that he originally decided to bring it to market, where he planned on selling it … but officials from the Fujian fisheries department refused to allow the sale of the endangered species. However, Chengzu seems to have sidestepped the ban for a curbside fire sale of shark meat, according to photos published by Shanghaiist. The fisherman butchered and auctioned the whale shark off at charity prices because “threatened species” laws are apparently about as enforced as “no-smoking” ones in China. This highlights once again the great need for more environmental education in China.

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Image by the Shaghaiist
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Image by the Shaghaiist
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Image by the Shaghaiist

Fortunately, despite this particular story, the global shark fin trade is on the decline. However, the statement from the Shanghaiist, that “various shark’s species are staging a comeback, thanks in part to Xi Jinping’s anti-extravagance campaign” is once again utter BS. A decline in the rate of killing of sharks does not in any logical way equate to a “comeback” – especially not in the space of one year. This is simply wishful thinking! It will take many years for shark species to recover to anything like their former populations from decades of global exploitation.

Whale sharks are sometimes found in Hong Kong waters, too, for example a whale shark was spotted at Sham Wan on Lamma by swimmers in July 2012 and in June 2008 a trawler caught a 5m whale shark and then released near Round Island (AFCD press release ). Tragically that shark later died and ended up in a landfill (WWF HK statement).

 

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