Maldives police has launched an investigation into illegal shark finning after confiscating 92 smoked fins from the northern island of Kulhudhuffushi.
Photos circulating on social media on Thursday showed dried shark fins put out in the sun to be smoked. The fins lay on a makeshift bed in the open, leading to criticism that the authorities have failed to stop shark fisheries.
Earlier this week, another set of images of sharks being gutted in the same island had found their way to the social media.
On being directed by the Fisheries Ministry, police in Kulhudhuffushi in the South Thiladhunmathi atoll raided the fish smoking area on Friday. Officials told Mihaaru Daily that the fins were being prepared for sale.
In 2010, Maldives declared a total ban on shark fisheries, becoming the second country in the world to make its territorial waters into a shark sanctuary. Partial bans on shark fishing from protected areas were enforced in the early 2000’s.
Ecocare Maldives, a local environmental NGO which led the campaign for the ban, said that it was extremely concerned by the developments.
“The available evidence points toward ongoing illegal shark fin trade in the Maldives,” it said over email.
According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the shark fin trade is flourishing in Asia, where 70 million sharks are killed each year to support the trade. These fins are sold for soups made in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Ecocare further expressed concern over the politicization of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has led to questions over the EPA’s independence.
“The EPA needs to become a fully independent agency capable of enforcing the ban on shark fisheries, among other mandated protection work. Unfortunately, the past few years have shown that environmental protection has not been a top priority for the Maldives,” said the NGO.
Despite the demand for shark fin in the Asian market, researchers estimate that Maldives economy benefits several fold from shark related tourism than fisheries.
Researchers from the James Cook University in Australia estimate that a single reef shark was worth $3,300 a year to the Maldivian tourism industry compared with the one-time value of $32 that a fisherman would get from the same shark.