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Keywords:

  • Anecdotes;
  • conservation;
  • fish market;
  • juvenile fish;
  • sharks;
  • threatened fish;
  • traditional knowledge

Abstract

Sharks fisheries have declined globally due to over- and unregulated fishing. As with many collapsed and unmonitored coastal fisheries, information is difficult to obtain, yet it is important to understand the historical changes determining population trends and evaluate the current status of sharks in order to conserve these vulnerable species. Here, we document for the first time the history and general condition of the shark fisheries of Southern China, specifically Hong Kong, and Guangdong, Fujian and Hainan Provinces. This study shows, through the use of historical literature and anecdotal accounts, including fisher interviews, that all known shark fisheries in the region collapsed between the 1970s and the 1990s. Of the 109 species present historically in the South China Sea, only 18 species were recorded in current market surveys, of which all were landed as bycatch and 65% were below the size of sexual maturity. Markets are dominated by smaller species, including the spadenose shark (Scoliodon laticaudus) and the whitespotted bambooshark (Chiloscyllium plagiosum). Marketed large shark species are almost all below the size of sexual maturation, evidence of growth overfishing and a factor in recruitment overfishing. Some species, like the whale (Rhincodon typus) and basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus), are clearly vulnerable to local extinction without intervention. Given the inherent vulnerability of sharks and the overfished states of many sharks, there is clearly an urgent need to formulate impacting conservation and management plans for these rapidly declining species in a region that has the highest demand for shark products globally.