Valuable Bycatch: Eliciting Social Importance of Sharks in Sri Lanka Through Value Chain Analysis

Collins, C., Letessier, T.B., Benaragama, A., Broderick, A., Wijesundara, I., Wijetunge, D., Nuno, A. (2023). Valuable bycatch: Eliciting social importance of sharks in Sri Lanka through value chain analysis. Marine Policy.


Decades of unsustainable fishing have caused widespread declines in shark populations leading to calls for increased management and policy. To design successful measures, an understanding of the social context and drivers for trade is needed. This study uses a value chain approach in Sri Lanka, where shark landings have declined rapidly, to map shark trade actors, ascertain determinants of price of shark meat and determine wider social value of shark products. Data was collected over one year from surveys of sales events (n = 630), and semi-structured interviews (n = 24), at two sites on the south and west coasts. We identify a dynamic, flexible supply chain with a small number of specialised stakeholders that may alternate roles depending on factors such as supply of sharks. Sharks were the primary income source for most (71%, n = 17) and 25% (n = 6) reported no alternative income sources. Trade was dominated by dried shark meat in the domestic market, and demand shaped by its perceived nutritional benefits and taste. Identification of species was difficult, and shark meat was primarily sold as size categories, however, whether or not shark was sold as blue shark (Prionace glauca) significantly impacted price reportedly due to lower international demand for their fins. Stakeholders perceived substantial drops in shark landings and trade > 10 years ago. We show that, within Sri Lanka, shark products represent a nexus of two dramatically different markets: high-value fins for their export markets and low to medium-value meat important for domestic earnings. The presence of dried products reportedly increases resilience of shark trade to socio-ecological shocks. Disentangling the relative social importance of these products, through product-specific and species-specific data is vital for a move towards predictive management that is capable of robust outcomes.

DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2023.105832