Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Shovelnose rays, served as ‘shark head’ in S’pore eateries, now critically endangered

SINGAPORE — Food lovers who enjoy a delicacy called “shark head” in Singapore restaurants may want to think again as the animal has just been classified as critically endangered.

Shovelnose rays, served as ‘shark head’ in S’pore eateries, now critically endangered

Dr Neil Hutchinson, a shark and ray expert from James Cook University’s Singapore campus, shows students how to measure the now critically endangered shovelnose ray.

SINGAPORE — Food lovers who enjoy a delicacy called “shark head” in Singapore restaurants may want to think again as the animal has just been classified as critically endangered.

“Shark head” is the sea creature known locally as the shovelnose ray — also known as the white-spotted wedgefish — and is usually promoted as a dish rich in collagen, which is meant to promote skin elasticity.

The creature was added to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Cites meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, ended on Wednesday (Aug 28).

The rays can be found in the waters of South-east Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, and the Northern coast of Australia, said Ms Sue Ye, founder of marine conservation group Marine Stewards — whose mission is to protect marine resources by promoting sustainable fishing practices.

Local fishermen occasionally catch them, she said, adding that they were urged to release them back into the ocean if they did.

Ms Ye also pointed out that the rays are sold in supermarkets chains here at about S$13 per kg and that Singaporeans should be aware of the importance of taking steps to ensure they are not made extinct.

Aside from the shovelnose rays — also known as the bottlenose wedgefish, with the technical name Rhynchobatus australiae — 17 other shark and ray species are classified under Appendix II of Cites as critically endangered.

Appendix II-listed species can be traded commercially only after traders have obtained relevant Cites permits, according to the National Parks Board (NParks) website.

Dr Neil Hutchinson, a shark and ray expert from James Cook University’s Singapore campus, explained that the population of shovelnose rays has suffered a 95 per cent decline in the last 20 years.

He added that the primary causes of this decline are overfishing and habitat loss.

“Both rays and sharks live in shallow sandbanks and these places are where most coastal fishing take place,” said Dr Hutchinson.

MANY UNAWARE SHOVELNOSE RAYS COULD BE CLOSE TO EXTINCTION

Ms Ye said that it is important to spread awareness on shovelnose rays as not many Singaporeans are aware that the species may be getting close to extinction.

“By spreading the message, hopefully anglers will release the fish when caught, restaurants stop buying them and consumers stop ordering them for dinner," she said.

When TODAY sought comment from supermarket chains, Giant said that it does not carry the item. Sheng Siong and NTUC FairPrice have not responded.

As Singapore is a signatory to Cites, NParks is responsible for the implementation and enforcement of Cites.

It works closely with the Singapore Food Authority (SFA), border control agencies as well as international and Singapore partners to tackle illegal trade of Cites-listed species.

In a joint statement, NParks and SFA said that imports and exports of these species are monitored closely and several considerations are taken into account before issuing licences, including the listing of the species on Cites, the purpose of the transaction and verification of export permits with the exporting country.

“When SFA receives applications to import such food products, SFA checks that the applications are accompanied by NParks’ Cites permits,” said the agencies.

NParks’ director of the coastal and marine division Karenne Tun said that fishing is banned in areas such as Sisters’ Islands Marine Park, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Labrador Nature Reserve rocky shore, Chek Jawa Wetlands and the waters around Coney Island Park.

“These areas are managed as sanctuaries for the mangrove and marine habitats to flourish and the fish population to grow to maturity,” said Dr Tun.

She added that recent marine surveys show that the shovelnose ray has not been spotted in these sanctuaries but has been reportedly been caught by recreational fishermen in waters outside of these areas.

“Through our Friends of Marine Park Community, we have engaged recreational fishermen to practise responsible and sustainable fishing to protect our freshwater and marine habitats and biodiversity for our future generations to enjoy.

“We will be happy to work with fishing groups, like Marine Stewards, who are concerned about the fishing of endangered species like the shovelnose ray, to educate the public on responsible and sustainable fishing practices,” Dr Tun said.

Offenders can be fined up to S$5,000 for fishing in ‘No Fishing’ areas in NParks-managed parks, and up to S$50,000 for fishing in nature reserves.

Heavy penalties are also put in place for those illegally importing or exporting Cites-listed species.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the maximum penalty for the illegal import, export and re-export of any Cites-listed species is a fine of up to S$500,000, or two years’ imprisonment, or both.

Related topics

shovelnose ray shark head Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa