Tamil Nadu tops illegal trade in shark body parts

GS Paper III

News Excerpt:

Tamil Nadu accounted for almost 65% of the illegal trade in shark body parts, a new analysis of seizures between January 2010 and December 2022 has revealed.

Key findings of the study:

  • This study has been done by TRAFFIC and WWF-India.
  • Recently, the factsheet was released titled as ‘Netted in illegal wildlife trade: Sharks of India’.
    • According to the factsheet Karnataka, Gujarat, Kerala, and Maharashtra follow Tamil Nadu in that order in illegal shark trade. 
    • The confiscated products were destined for Singapore, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Sri Lanka, and mainland China.
  • The demand for shark fins and meat is a major driver of global shark fishery. 
    • Shark fins are the most sought-after shark product used to make shark-fin soup a delicacy.
  • Shark’s meat is consumed as food, skin as leather, liver oil (squalene) as a lubricant, in cosmetics and as a source of vitamin A, cartilage for chondroitin sulphate extraction in the preparation of medicines, and jaws and teeth for making curios.


  • TRAFFIC is the Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce.
  • TRAFFIC has an enviable reputation as a reliable and impartial organization, a leader in the field of conservation as it relates to wildlife trade. 
  • It was established in 1976 and has developed into a global network, research-driven and action-oriented. 
  • It is committed to delivering innovative and practical conservation solutions based on the latest information.
  • It is governed by the TRAFFIC Committee, a steering group composed of members of TRAFFIC's partner organizations, WWF and IUCN. 
  • A central aim of TRAFFIC's activities is to contribute to the wildlife trade-related priorities of these partners.
  • TRAFFIC also works in close co-operation with the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Major concerns related to overfishing of sharks:

  • Sharks are crucial to the marine ecosystem, as top predators in the oceanic food web, sharks prey on various species, including plankton, fish, crustaceans, and marine mammals. 
  • Overfishing, coupled with low biological productivity, puts them at a higher risk of extinction when compared to most other vertebrates.
  • Of 160 shark species reported in India, only 26 sharks and rays have been given the highest protection status under the amended Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972 by listing them in Schedules I and II.
  • Illegal shark trade is a serious conservation threat to sharks not just in India but globally. 
  • Mis-declaring relevant species on permits is one of the main ways sharks are traded illegally worldwide.
  • The lack of capacity to identify the shark fins against numerous potential shark species in trade is a significant gap in curbing their illicit trade. 
  • Insufficient monitoring mechanisms further make it challenging to differentiate between legal and illegal trade of sharks.

Steps Taken to prevent illegal trade in sharks parts:

  • To help law enforcement officials such as Customs identify dried and unprocessed fins, TRAFFIC has created 3D-printed and painted replica fins.
    • Last year, these were shared with the enforcement agencies concerned in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka by TRAFFIC’s India office.
  • TRAFFIC has also published a new 3D Shark Fin Identification Guidebook on 11 commercially traded shark and ray species based on physical characteristics to supplement the use of the 3D shark fins.
    • These 11 fins are of shark and ray species listed in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). 
    • The guidebook can be used independently or with 3D replica shark fins by enforcement agencies in India’s coastal regions, airports, and seaports.

About WWF India:

  • Established as a Charitable Trust on 27 November, 1969, WWF India set out with the aim of reducing the degradation of Earth’s natural environment and building a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. 
  • In 1987, the organization changed its name from the World Wildlife Fund to the World Wide Fund for Nature India. 
  • With five decades of extensive work in the sector, WWF India today is one of the leading conservation organizations in the country.
  • WWF India is a science-based organization which addresses issues such as the conservation of species and its habitats, climate change, water and environmental education, among many others. 
  • Over the years, its perspective has broadened to reflect a more holistic understanding of the various conservation issues facing the country.
  • It seeks to proactively encourage environmental conservation by working with different stakeholders- Governments, NGOs, schools and colleges, corporates, students and other individuals. 
  • Mission Statement
    • To stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by:
      • Conserving the world's biological diversity
      • Ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable
      • Promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

Way forward:

  • To combat the illegal trade in shark body parts, a multi-faceted approach is needed. This should include:
    • Strengthening enforcement efforts through increased monitoring and collaboration among agencies and countries.
    • Implementing stricter penalties for those involved in illegal shark trade to deter future activity.
    • Enhancing public awareness about the importance of sharks in marine ecosystems and the consequences of their overexploitation.
    • Supporting sustainable fishing practices and alternative livelihoods for communities dependent on shark fishing.
    • Improving international cooperation and information sharing to track and prosecute illegal shark trade networks effectively.
  • By addressing the above of these aspects comprehensively, it is possible to reduce the illegal trade in shark body parts and protect these vital marine species.


The illegal trade in shark body parts, particularly prevalent in Tamil Nadu, poses a grave threat to shark populations and marine ecosystems. With innovative tools and guides, efforts are underway to enhance enforcement and curb illicit trade. However, sustained conservation actions and international cooperation are imperative to protect these vulnerable species.

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