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Keywords:

  • Chile;
  • fin trade;
  • finning;
  • ITS;
  • molecular markers;
  • shark

Shark fins have become a highly valued commodity with the major Asian fin-trade centres supplied from global sources, including Chile. With growing concerns about the resilience of shark populations to heavy fishing pressure, there is a need for better information on shark landings to aid management efforts. In the widespread absence of shark landing records especially by species, monitoring the fin trade has been proposed as a way to assess species exploitation levels. Here, the first species assessment of the Chilean shark-fin trade was provided. The goals of this study were to (1) determine the species composition and relative species proportion of sharks utilized in the fin trade, (2) determine the relationship between fin trader market names and species and (3) assess trader accuracy in identifying shark fin species based on fin photographs. Fins were analysed from two different fin drying facilities (n = 654) (secaderos) and two fin-storage warehouses (n = 251). In contrast to official government landing records that only document four species in the landings, molecular species identification of the fins demonstrated that at least 10 pelagic shark species are present in the north-central Chilean shark fin trade: Alopias superciliosus, Alopias vulpinus, Carcharhinus obscurus, Galeorhinus galeus, Isurus oxyrinchus, Isurus paucus, Lamna nasus, Prionace glauca, Sphyrna lewini, Sphyrna zygaena. The species composition of the fins from the secaderos was P. glauca (83·9%), I. oxyrinchus (13·6%), L. nasus (1·7%) and A. superciliosus (0·2%). There was generally good agreement between market names and single shark species for the trade categories ‘Azulejo’, ‘Tiburon’, ‘Tintorera’, ‘Cola de zorro’ and ‘Martillo’. In contrast, the market category ‘Carcharhinus’ consisted of a mixture of at least five species. The molecular results also identified two species (S. lewini and I. paucus) not previously recorded in Chilean waters. The fin identification survey given to nine regional traders demonstrated that they were highly accurate in recognizing pictures of fins from P. glauca and I. oxyrinchus. The overall strong concordance between market categories and fins from single species and the trader accuracy in survey fin identification suggests that monitoring the Chilean fin trade by market names will provide a reasonably accurate picture of the volume of sharks landed by species.