August 3, 2010
The Brazilian environmental group Instituto Justiça Ambiental (IJA) this week released a report alleging that illegal commercial shark fishing is causing severe damage to Brazil’s offshore ecosystems. According to IJA, 300,000 sharks have been killed in the past year for their fins, which are clandestinely exported to Asia where shark fin soup and other shark-based dishes are a popular delicacy.
It is a crime in Brazil to separate a shark’s fin from its body. According to the group’s allegations, however, this has not stopped the Brazilian seafood company, Sigel do Brasil Comercio, from illegally exporting millions of dollars worth of shark fins to China and other Asian markets where a growing middle class has caused a surge in demand for the products. IJA’s claims have been substantiated by the Brazilian Environment Ministry, who has stepped up pressure on Sigel and even raided their offices in May.
The killing of so many predators has severely imbalanced the ecosystem off Brazil’s coast, says Cristiano Pacheco, director of IJA, "The massive and illegal fishing is doing irreversible harm to the ocean's ecosystem, because sharks are at the top of the food chain.” In the group’s view, that impact is worth $790 million, which is the amount of a lawsuit that IJA has brought against the seafood company on Monday. Any legal award resulting from the suit will go to Brazil’s national environment fund.