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Launching a new visual tool to identify shark trunks in the international meat trade

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The first shark trunk visual identification guide is launched as part of a one stop toolkit for regulating trade in CITES-listed species

Warning: This blog contains images of sharks without fins or heads as part of a training exercise to identify species by their trunks. Some people may find this distressing.

Indonesia is the world’s largest shark fishing nation and since 2015, there has been a dramatic increase in their export of shark meat products. As well as being available in processed form such as fillets, shark meat is also traded as whole-body trunks, which can be headless, finless or both. Officials tasked with verifying if trunks are a species of shark which is listed on the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voiced concerns about the lack of visual identification guides to support this challenging requirement during the opening phase of our Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund project.

Indonesian officials looking at shark carcasses during a training workshop on the identification of shark trunks.
Indonesian officials during a training workshop on the identification of shark trunks.

In response, the UK government (Defra) provided further support to the collaboration between Cefas and the Indonesian government to facilitate the production of the first visual guide for identifying the trunks of CITES-listed shark and ray species.

This trunk guide is being launched as part of a three-guide series that covers whole animals, shark trunks and dried products such as shark fins and devil ray gill plates. The whole animal and product guides combine decades of previous work and have been developed as part of a global collaboration with governments, non-governmental organizations, and other partner and funding organizations (including the CITES Secretariat, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the European Union, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Shark Conservation Fund). These guides simplify the training process for customs officials by covering all CITES listed species, and the major products in trade in one set of guides.


Dr. Rima Jabado, Founder, Elasmo Project and Chair, IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group stated:

The implementation of CITES trade controls has been hampered by challenges in the identification of species and their products. We have now consolidated the most up-to-date available information on each CITES-listed species, taking into account recent taxonomic updates, and have developed easy to use guides that will support fisheries and trade inspectors in implementing CITES regulations.

The support of the Indonesian government and team on the ground as well as their feedback throughout the process was fundamental for us to develop the trunk identification guide. We would not have been able to develop such a comprehensive guide without them.

Front covers of the three guide series on identifying CITES-listed sharks and rays.
Front covers of the three guide series on identifying CITES-listed sharks and rays. Online versions available here.


Developing and testing the guides

Before designing the guide, world leading shark experts and authors of the guides, Debra Abercrombie and Rima Jabado, travelled to Indonesia to understand firsthand the challenges of identifying shark trunks from Indonesian officials. During their visit they worked with local partners to collect high-resolution images of relevant species and their unique identifying features as the guide design process began.

Once drafted, the trunk guide was shared with local officials in Indonesia for field testing and feedback on its practical use incorporated into later edits.  The guide and supporting training video are now a key element of the shark and ray trade management national training program and are already being used by officials in Indonesia to support the identification of CITES-listed species in the shark meat trade.


Dewa Gde Tri Bodhi Saputra, a Verification Officer from BPSPL Denpasar said about the trunk guide:

Dengan memiliki buku identifikasi Karkas yang di terbitkan oleh Cefas, saya merasa terbantukan dan lebih mudah memahami kunci kunci penting dalam melakukan identifikasi jenis hiu pari, kususnya yang telah didaratkan oleh perusahaan dalam bentuk daging tanpa kepala dan sirip. Buku ini sangat bagus untuk  pengguna yang sudah paham ataupun yang belum paham menggunakan teknik identifikasi, karena petunjuknya cukup simpel dan mudah untuk dipahami. Saya berharap buku identfikasi milik cefas ini dapat berguna bagi petugas dan orang orang yang ingin belajar mengenai indentifikasi hiu pari khususnya jenis daging tanpa kepala dan sirip.

By having the Carcass identification book published by Cefas, I find it helpful and easier to understand the important key identification in shark and ray species, especially those that have been landed by the company in the form of headless finless. This book is very good for users who are familiar with or who are unfamiliar with identification techniques, because the instructions are quite simple and easy to understand. I hope this Cefas identification book can be useful for officers and people who want to learn about the identification of shark and ray, especially the headless and finless.


Participants at the trunk identification training workshop in Bali, December 2021.
Participants at the trunk identification training workshop in Bali, December 2021.

During the next two weeks (7-11th March), Parties to CITES will be meeting in Lyon, France for the 74th Meeting of the Standing Committee. We have submitted this series of guides to CITES so that they can be hosted on their Shark and Ray Portal. We hope that in doing so, the work developed through this global partnership is freely and widely available and will support Parties who have international trade in sharks and rays ensure that their trade is well-regulated and sustainable.

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