Whale sharks and two species of manta rays will receive new protection under the law in Taiwan beginning June 1, increasing penalties for anyone found guilty of disturbing or capturing the three species. 

Under Taiwan’s Wildlife Conservation Act, whale sharks, giant oceanic manta rays, and reef manta rays will be uplisted from “rare and valuable” to “endangered,” joining four different shark species, including Sawfishes. Taiwan’s Fisheries Act banned whale shark hunting in 2008 and prohibited the capture of the two species of manta rays in 2017. As of June 1, those guilty of disturbing or capturing any of the three species face up to five years in prison and a fine of NT$300,000 to NT$1.5 million (US$10,033 to US$50,164), according to Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council (OAC). 

“After working for two decades to win full protection for whale sharks and mantas in Taiwan, we are pleased the government is fulfilling its pledge to the international community by strengthening enforcement,” said WildAid Chief Program Officer John Baker. “As a major global fishing nation and a signatory to CITES, the next logical step is to immediately extend the same protections to other endangered and vulnerable shark populations.”

Taiwan’s new protections for whale sharks are crucial as global populations continue to dwindle due to overfishing, bycatch and demand for shark meat, liver oil and fins. Global populations of giant oceanic manta rays and reef manta rays are unknown but their very slow reproductive rates make them especially vulnerable to rapidly depleted populations. Their gill plates are used in health tonics despite evidence of heavy metal contamination, including Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, and Lead.

Taiwan is the world’s fifth-largest importer and exporter of sharks and shark parts in terms of volume. In 2018, Taiwan imported 8241 tons of shark fin and meat (valued at more than US $11.5 million), an increase of 639 tons from 2017, according to the Taiwan Fisheries Agency. Taiwan is also one of the top five shark catchers globally. Between 2005 and 2014, 70% (5,268 tons) of its shark fins was exported to Hong Kong, followed by 16% (1,208 tons) exported to mainland China, according to a 2018 WildAid report.

For more than a decade, National Taiwan Ocean University, WildAid and Taiwan partner, NGO, Life Conservationist Association (LCA), have been calling on the government to adhere to CITES listings and grant full protection to whale sharks, basking sharks, and great whites under the national Wildlife Conservation Act. 

“Sharks play a critical role in ocean health,” said Teddy Chang, Chairman of LCA. “With these latest protections, we hope Taiwan continues its progress to becoming a marine conservation leader. Please remember to always say no to shark fin soup.”

Under Taiwan’s Wildlife Protection Act, there is a long list of shark species on CITES Appendix II that should be afforded more protections, including hammerheads, Thresher, Devil Rays, Great Whites, and Silky sharks. In March, WildAid investigated 14 harbors around the island and discovered boats littered with carcasses from hammerheads, blue sharks and a giant manta ray. 

 

A dead manta ray in Taiwan harbor during a WildAid investigation in March

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year, the majority for their fins, with parts from up to 73 million ending up in soup and depleting vulnerable shark populations.

“Without full protection of these threatened species and improved monitoring for depleted species, a lack of data continues to hinder sustainable management of sharks,” said Baker. “We hope the whale shark and manta uplisting means the tide is changing and we look forward to stricter penalties for more shark species and continuing to reduce consumer demand for manta and shark products.” 

In Taiwan, shark fin is considered a luxury item embodying intertwined notions of generous hospitality and keeping “face.” However, this seems to be outdated and even a dish that makes guests uncomfortable.  According to a 2018 survey from WildAid and Life Conservationist Association, roughly 83% of those in Taiwan who consumed shark fin soup between 2015 and 2018 were invited to do so by others and 62% preferred not to eat it when served to them at weddings and banquets. Ninety-eight percent of consumers in Taiwan who consumed shark fin in the past three years did so in hotels and restaurants, and these establishments feature shark fin products on their set banquet menus, leaving little choice for alternatives. 

To end these uncomfortable and unnecessary situations, more than 100 corporate leaders, government leaders and musicians have joined with WildAid, urging businesses and restaurants to commit to a shark-free Taiwan by taking shark fin soup off the menu. Sign the Global Shark Pledge. 

With public support, we will continue to advocate for stronger regulations and lead mass awareness campaigns to help Taiwan achieve a thriving marine life that contributes to healthy oceans and sustainable fisheries. 

Please never eat shark fin soup and help us spread the message on social media using #NoSharkFin. 

WildAid would like to thank Acting Chairperson of OAC Lee Chung-wei and Director-General of the Ocean Conservation Administration Huang Hsiang-wen for their tireless efforts to strengthen protections for threatened and endangered sharks. 

 

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About WildAid

WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $218 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too. 

Journalists on deadline may email communications@wildaid.org