Shark fin godfather story, pre-publication…

The post-lawyer, pre-publication version of the Giam story, for those that requested it:


A key member of a United Nations body that helps regulates trade in endangered animals has been accused of being a representative of the shark fin industry which is driving some species of the fish towards extinction.

Dr Giam Choo-Hoo is a member of the Animals Committee that provides scientific evaluation of the threats to species covered by the United Nation’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

However, on the eve of a meeting to discuss the possible further protection of sharks, some have alleged he is a representative of a fishing industry which supplies fins to make shark fin soup in China, which critics say is a clear conflict of interest.

“Dr Giam represents the interests of trade. He tries very hard to block any conservation actions, particularly reptiles and fish,” said Sue Lieberman, a long-time CITES delegate who currently works for the Pew Environment Group.

Analysis of his interventions during CITES meetings by a Hong-Kong based former law-enforcement official and The Times reveals a long-running campaign of technicalities, procedural complaints and stalling for time.

Attempts to add hammerhead, oceanic white tip, spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks to the convention, which would have seen trade in their fins monitored but not banned, were narrowly defeated in 2010. The CITES Animals committee meets today in Geneva, and sharks are high on its agenda.

A member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in London, Dr Giam represents Asia and is the longest-serving member of the committee.

Yesterday he dismissed concerns about his business interests, saying that they had no bearing on his actions on the committee.“To me it’s irrelevant. You judge me by what I say, not by whether or not I have ties to the fin industry,” he said.

Unlike other multilateral UN treaties such as the World Health Organisation and the Food & Agriculture Organisation, CITES has no rules against such conflicts of interest. CITES Secretary General John Scanlon said that although rules to prevent such conflicts of interest had been proposed they had been voted down by member states.

“The Chair of the Animals committee opposed any further action, stating that there had never been a problem in the scientific committees related to a potential conflict of interest,” Mr Scanlon said.At a recent meeting in Singapore Dr Giam gave a talk titled “Shark’s Fin Soup Helps the Poor: Is the Fin Industry all that Bad?” in which he claimed that there is no scientific evidence linking the high price of shark fins, which are among the most expensive seafood items in the world, fetching up to £250 per kilo in Hong Kong street market, with the global decline in shark populations.

An estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year, and because they produce small numbers of live young shark populations are unable to recover quickly.

Precipitous declines in these three species led to the proposals, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s red list of species names 68 shark or related species as being Endangered or Critically Endangered.

At a 2010 conference in Hong Kong – a city in which 50 per cent of the world’s shark fins are traded – attended by government officials and traders, Dr Giam claimed no shark species were endangered.

About Frank Pope

The world's first dedicated Ocean Correspondent, for the Times of London. View all posts by Frank Pope

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