Fisherfolk, expert say shark meat ends up as fish balls

By: Marian Z. Codilla May 08,2014 - 09:03 AM

Fish balls

Sharks are hunted for their fins and liver, but the demand for sharks is also spurred by their availability as cheap meat for popular street food like fish balls and tempura.

In sitios Magay and Rattan in Tangke, Talisay City, where shark meat is sometimes sold along the shores, local fishermen know where they end up.

“Ig human og panit sa iho, hiwa-hiwaon para himoon og tempura (After skinning the shark, they will cut it to pieces as an ingredient for tempura),” said one of fisherman interviewed by Cebu Daily News on Monday.

He said the buyer was a a fish dealer in their neighborhood who sells it wholesale to producers of the popular street food.

The observation was affirmed by the marine conservation group Lamave (Large Marine Vertebrates), which is conducting research in the Visayan seas.

“Unfortunately, sharks are used in fish balls but it is not a new thing. The liver is used for oil while the meat is usually consumed locally. Fins and gills are sold to higher end users in big cities such as Manila and Cebu or exported,” said Alessandro Ponzo, an Italian marine biologist working for Lamave.

Shark meat is sold at P50 per kilo to wholesale traders.

Without the fins, which is used in shark fin soup served in Chinese restaurants, shark meat has low market value.

This is one of the reasons many countries including the Philippines don’t have a clear shark conservation management policy compared to higher value species.

Cheap shark meat has replaced higher valued fish species such as round scad (galunggong), mackerel (anduhaw) and shrimps as raw material for fish balls and seafood tempura.

The Philippines has no national law protecting shark species.

In Cebu province, a local ordinance bans the hunting, capture, killing or sale of four sea creastures — the Thresher Shark, Whale Shark, Gian Manta Rays and Sun Fish.

But beyond the jurisdiction of Cebu, there is no law to penalize the people who hunt, catch, possess, transport, wound or kill these species.

Anna Oposa, co-founder of Save Philippine Seas who heads the Shark Shelter Project, a community-based conservation project, said they have been lobbying for the passage of shark protection legislation with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the House of Representatives.

“I believe that sharks should be protected, most especially in the Province of Cebu because it is a province known for its marine resources. Divers from all over the country and the world go to Cebu to see different kinds of sharks — threshers, whale sharks, white tips, etc. Several studies have shown that sharks are more valuable alive than dead because of the tourism it brings,” Oposa told CDN.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia Ocean Campaigner Vince Cinches said BFAR should be proactive in marine conservation efforts.

“We are archipelagic and the sea is a significant provider of our daily protein needs, that is why sharks (in the wild) should be protected to maintain ecological balance in our seas,” Cinches said.

Oposa agreed, saying, “sharks are apex predators who maintain the balance of the marine ecosystem.”/with reports from Correspondent Peter L. Romanillos

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