May 23, 2009

Fishermen turn to rays as sharks decline

With shark populations tumbling around the world, Chinese cooks are turning to manta and devil rays to fill their shark fin soup pots.

Until recently, the rays were targeted only by subsistence fishermen, The Times of London reported Friday. Now, about 1,500 big manta rays are taken every year in the Indonesian fishing port of Lamakera.

Tim Clark of the University of Hawaii said the rays could be overfished quickly. They have a long lifespan -- possibly more than 50 years -- and do not begin reproducing until they are in their teens.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates Atlantic shark numbers at one-fifth of what they were 15 years ago. Many fishermen remove the valuable fins and throw the sharks back to die.

Clark said ray cartilage is used in cheap shark fin soup. The gills are dried and ground for traditional Chinese remedies with one gill plate sometimes selling for $350 in China.