In a new University of Guelph study that makes use of DNA barcoding technology, researchers have uncovered evidence that 71 percent of the dried shark fins and manta ray gills used in traditional medicines sold originate from endangered species.
In the study, the results of which was published in Scientific Reports, 129 samples were collected from markets and shops in Canada, China and Sri Lanka. The researchers then used DNA barcoding to identify the species.
They discovered that the fins and gills had came from 20 shark and ray species. Twelve of these species are listed as protected, and it is illegal to trade them under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES).
On the results of the study, Dirk Steinke, integrative biology professor and member of the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics said, “We were surprised to find whale shark fins and gills were being sold. This magnificent animal has been on the CITES Appendices since 2003.”
Unfortunately, enforcement against shark finning and importing shark fins for sale remains a challenge as the shark fins are dried and processed prior to being sold. This makes it difficult for the authorities to identify the species.
Enter modern technology. “DNA barcoding is an ideal tool when identifying dried samples or samples that have been processed. It provides enforcement agencies with a method for detecting whether the fins and gills that are being sold are legal or illegal imported species,” said Steinke.
“This study has shown that DNA barcoding can be a method to help prevent protected species from hitting the market,” he added.
The study was conducted with researchers from the Guy Harvey Research Institute and Save Our Seas Shark Research Centre at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.