Shark meat? Have a sardine!

02 May 2010 | News story

Shark-finning - slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea - is an unsustainable practice that is threatening shark populations in West Africa, pushing them to the edge of extinction. By supporting the withdrawal of women from shark meat processing and teaching them how to process more abundant fish species, an IUCN’s project is providing long-term benefits to both local livelihoods and marine biodiversity in West Africa.

Senegalese women have traditionally been employed in shark meat processing. But the over-exploitation of shark stocks to meet the growing demand for shark fins in Asia and West Africa has seriously threatened the existence of the species in the area. To encourage West African women to withdraw from shark meat trade and start trading in more abundant species such as sardines, IUCN held a workshop to teach them new processing techniques of fish which can provide a much more sustainable source of income.
The training was part of a community-based conservation project funded by IUCN’s Sir Peter Scott Fund and partner Foundation Ensemble.

The training sessions focused on the production of salt dried and smoked sardinella as a commercially viable alternative to shark meat, supported by the Senegal Ministry of Fisheries. Sardinella is an abundant fish, which is traditionally used in cooking and is affordable to the poorest communities.

During the training, 35 women from South Africa mastered all stages of an innovative fish processing technique: smoking, pealing, salting and sun drying. They quickly realized that it allowed them to obtain products of much higher quality than the traditional techniques, greatly increasing their value. They also learnt improved hygiene standards, which further raised the product’s quality.

Project leader Dr. Mika Diop said that the women were keen to establish new trade networks in their home communities and explore new market opportunities between regions in Senegal. They quickly withdrew from the shark meat trade, encouraging others to participate in similar future schemes.

The workshop was also an interesting opportunity for the participating women to realize that they can defend their rights more effectively if they are informed about market regulations. They shared their experiences in West African fish trade and discussed problems they encounter when trading with neighbouring countries. The project helped them realize that market constraints are not exclusively economic but also political, and that effective policies are necessary to solve certain problems. They also acquired important knowledge about financial institutions that support women and about government schemes in Senegal.

Click here to learn more about the project.