Shark Ecotourism More Economically Valuable Than Shark Fishing, Research Finds — Shark Numbers Still Rapidly Falling

Shark ecotourism is more economically valuable than shark fishing is, according to new research from the University of British Columbia. With the rapid decline of shark populations around the world in recent decades, and the many warnings of their possible extinction in the near future, hopefully this new research helps in the establishment of effective conservation measures.

Image Credit: Shawn Heinrichs
Image Credit: Shawn Heinrichs

The new research found that shark ecotourism generates over US$314 million dollars annually, and that number is estimated to climb to more than US$780 million within the next 20 years. While the “landed value of global shark fisheries is currently US$630 million and has been in decline for the past decade.” An enormous number of sharks are currently being killed every year solely for their fins — at least 38 million sharks were killed for fins in 2009 — with the rest of the meat simply dumped overboard… The shark fin trade is primarily fueled by demand in China, related to “traditional” Chinese medicine.

“The emerging shark tourism industry attracts nearly 600,000 shark watchers annually, directly supporting 10,000 jobs,” says Andres Cisneros-Montemayor, a PhD candidate with UBC’s Fisheries Economics Research Unit and lead author of the study. “It is abundantly clear that leaving sharks in the ocean is worth much more than putting them on the menu.”

“Sharks are slow to mature and produce few offspring,” says Rashid Sumaila, senior author and director of UBC’s Fisheries Centre. “The protection of live sharks, especially through dedicated protected areas, can benefit a much wider economic spectrum while helping the species recover.”

The research was done by examining shark fisheries around the world, and shark ecotourism data from 70 sites in 45 countries. “Almost $124 million in tourism dollars were generated annually in the Caribbean from shark tourism, supporting more than 5,000 jobs. In Australia and New Zealand, 29,000 shark watchers help generate almost $40 million in tourism expenditure a year.”

As mentioned above, recent research has warned that sharks may be extinct within only the next couple of decades. And that more than 100 million sharks are being killed humans every year…. Many species have seen their population numbers fall by as much as 90% in only the last 20-30 years.

The problem isn’t exclusive to sharks though — the overfishing of many fish species has led to the rapid increase in jellyfish numbers that’s been seen in recent years.

The new research was published in Oryx — The International Journal of Conservation.

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