Understanding pressures on fishery resources through trade statistics: a pilot study of four products in the Chinese dried seafood market


  • Shelley Clarke

    1. Renewable Resources Assessment Group, Imperial College London, Royal School of Mines Building, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2AZ, UK
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S. Clarke, National Research Institute for Far Seas Fisheries, 5-7-1 Shimizu-Orido, Shizuoka 424-8633, Japan
Tel.: +81 543 36 6046
Fax: +81 543 35 9642
E-mail: sclarke@fra.affrc.go.jp


This study investigates the dried seafood trade, centred in Chinese markets, in order to better understand the pressures its demand exerts on global marine resource stocks. Using Hong Kong, the region's largest entrepôt, as a focal point, the trade in shark fins, abalone, bêche-de-mer and dried fish is characterized in terms of product history, volume, source fisheries and species composition. Trends identified in the Hong Kong market are interpreted in the context of the larger Chinese market. Shark fin imports grew 6% per year between 1991 and 2000, most likely because of market expansion in Mainland China, posing increasingly greater pressures on global shark resources. In contrast, the quantities of dried abalone traded through Hong Kong remained steady, but inferences based on this trend are discouraged by suggestions of increasing preferences for fresh product forms and growing domestic production in Mainland China. Hong Kong's imports of dried bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) have decreased, while the percentage of imports re-exported has remained steady, suggesting that Hong Kong continues as an entrepôt for Mainland China despite declining domestic consumption. Few conclusions can be drawn regarding dried fish products, including whole fish and fish maws, because of a lack of product differentiation in customs data, but a market survey was conducted to provide information on species composition. Comparison of Hong Kong dried seafood trade statistics to those of other key trading partners indicates that, in general, Hong Kong's duty-free status appears to encourage more accurate reporting of traded quantities. Under-reporting biases ranged from 24 to 49% for shark fin and bêche-de-mer, respectively. Comparison to United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) databases indicates additional under-reporting for shark fin such that an alternative minimum estimate of world trade is at least twice the FAO estimates in 1998–2000. The results of a survey of Hong Kong traders provide insight into their attitudes toward harvest, economic and regulatory factors, and suggest that conservation efforts are unlikely to emerge from, or be actively supported by, dried seafood trade organizations. The market's apparent sensitivity to economic sentiment, however, reveals an opportunity for consumer education to play a role in shaping future market growth and resource conservation. Recommendations are provided for improving trade statistics and for developing better analytical techniques to complement traditional methods for monitoring the exploitation and management of fisheries resources.