Are Sharks Worth More Alive Than Dead?

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

Economically-speaking, sharks are worth more to society alive than they are dead, according to a new report in Oryx — The International Journal of Conservation.

While the deadly fish are prized for their fins as an exotic delicacy, an international team of researchers has found that the money brought in by shark-related ecotourism is expected to surpass the revenue made by catching and killing them over the next 20 years.

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

According to Cisneros-Montemayor and his colleagues from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur in Mexico, shark ecotourism currently generates over $314 million annually around the world and is expected to more than double to $780 million over the next two decades. Meanwhile, global shark fisheries currently generate $630 million, but that figure has been in decline for the past decade, the study said.

The joint research team examined shark-related fisheries and ecotourism data across 70 sites in 45 countries. They found that about $124 million in shark-related tourism dollars were generated annually in the Caribbean, providing more than 5,000 jobs. In Australia and New Zealand, shark ecotourism generated almost $40 million in tourism annually.

While the study didn´t examine the negative impacts of sharks associated with ecotourism, it said approximately 38 million sharks were killed in 2009 to support the global shark fin trade.

“Sharks are slow to mature and produce few offspring,” says co-author Rashid Sumaila, 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.”

Sharks join manta rays as sea creatures that are economically more valuable alive than dead. Prized for their gill plates as an ingredient in Chinese medicine, the manta ray trade is reportedly worth about $11 million per year.“¯However, they have been estimated to be worth between $65 and $100 million in ecotourism dollars.

Ecotourism can be a huge financial engine, especially for developing countries that need the money the most. According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), 83 percent of developing countries rely on ecotourism as a major export, and world trade organizations say that the ecotourism industry is experiencing steady annual growth.

While ecotourism has a reputation for being a luxury activity, its steady growth means a wider range of clientele.

“Eco-tourism is such a broad and often misleading term, which can encompass everything from a conservation-based adventure travel program to vacations in high-end luxury hotels that use recycled toilet paper and avoid washing towels every day,” Jason Halal, manager of Sierra Club Outings, told CNBC.

“One thing is for sure — travel companies and services are all beefing up their eco credentials in order to attract the rising number of customers seeking a ℠green´ experience.”