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Thailand eating too much shark fin, a worrying sign for shark populations worldwide

More than half of Thais have eaten shark fin and plan to consume it again in the future. A large proportion of people remain unaware about the magnitude and cruelty of the shark fin trade, suggesting a concerning potential for increased demand for fins in Thailand, according to a new report released today by WildAid.

In addition, Thailand exports a significant amount of shark fin products, further increasing its impact on shark populations. The report "Shark Fin Demand in Thailand" compiles data on Thailand's role in the shark fin trade and results from a shark fin consumer survey conducted by WildAid and Rapid Asia.

The survey was part of a regional effort to better understand shark fin consumption and overall awareness and attitudes on issues relating to sharks and the shark fin trade in Southeast Asia. Survey results show that the consumption of shark fin in Thailand is already widespread with potential to become a significant market for the trade.

Fifty-seven percent of urban Thais have ever consumed shark fin and 29% have eaten it within the previous 12 months. Alarmingly, 61% said they will consume shark fin in the future, citing curiosity and having heard from others that it tastes good, although shark fin itself has no flavor (flavor comes mostly from the broth that it is cooked in and added ingredients).

Survey respondents reported they consumed shark fin most often at weddings (72%), family meals at restaurants (61%) and business meetings (47%). Preliminary market research by WildAid recorded at least 100 restaurants serving shark fin in Bangkok.

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year and fins from up to 73 million sharks each year end up in shark fin soup. Thailand is home to an active domestic market for fins, with many consumers unaware of the wasteful practice of "finning" behind each bowl of shark fin soup: a shark's fins are often cut off at sea and the rest of the animal is thrown back into the water to die.

"These survey results confirm that there is a strong need in Thailand to raise awareness of the impacts of shark fin consumption and to reduce the demand for shark fin products. When the buying stops, the killing can too." said John Baker, Managing Director, WildAid.

According to Food Intelligence Centre Thailand, between 2012 and 2016 alone, Thailand has exported over 22,467 tonnes of shark fin and processed shark fin products and imported over 451.57 tonnes.

In 2015, Thailand exported over 5,000 tonnes of shark fin, roughly equivalent to the amount that was imported into Hong Kong in that year. It is not clear where the fins are sourced from, as Thailand's domestic shark population would appear insufficient to account for reported quantities. This data ranks Thailand as the world's number one exporter of shark fins.

The prices for a bowl of shark fin soup ranged widely, from as low as 300 Baht on the street to as high as 4,000 Baht in a high-end restaurant. WildAid also surveyed the Thai public to better understand their awareness of issues facing sharks and found worrying results.

At least half of all respondents lack adequate awareness of the consequences of the fin trade on shark populations worldwide, both unaware that sharks are often killed just for their fins and that some shark populations have already declined by 98%, while 85% don't know about the number of sharks killed each year.

In an effort to build public awareness on the issue, WildAid in partnership with Infographic Thailand also released a motion infographic encouraging the Thai public to say no to shark fin soup.

"This year WildAid hopes to work closely with the government, increase restaurant and hotel partnerships, and recruit celebrity ambassadors for media and public outreach. The more people learn about the consequences of eating shark fin soup, the less they want to participate in the trade. Together, we can end the demand for shark fin in Thailand," added Baker.

Download the report here