Abstract: The unsustainable trade in elasmobranch products, particularly fins, contributes to the decline of elasmobranch populations worldwide. Designing and implementing context-appropriate solutions to mitigate unsustainable trade requires a thorough analysis of markets. Here we assess the market component of the elasmobranch fin trade in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, using a framework designed to analyse wildlife markets. Using a mixed-method approach, we characterised the market to identify the components contributing to unsustainable practices. By-catch retention levels were high leading to the development of a solid market. Trade on fins was prevalent due to a high price, lack of awareness, actors’ limited ability to adhere to regulations, and no strategies and incentives to limit fishing mortality. An imbalanced power and financial structure between actors were revealed, with some actors accessing unequal benefits from the market. Impediments for adopting conservation measures by low-access actors (e.g., fishers) with limited decision-making power or resources were evident. We also identified challenges to enforcement primarily due to limited reporting and issues identifying species and products. Fishers noted several socio-ecological, technical, and enforcement issues (e.g., policing instead of meaningful monitoring, punitive measures without facilitating compliance), that will require adequate time and resources to change practices. Lack of opportunities and information to adhere to regulations and increased enforcement has led to conflicts, non-compliance and unwillingness to report catches. The study has significantly strengthened the current understanding of Bangladesh’s complex elasmobranch product market while highlighting critical knowledge gaps that must be addressed to inform and improve management decisions. Based on the findings, we recommend targeted actions to respond to the current market for mitigating elasmobranch product trade and moving towards establishing sustainable and ethical trade. Our work has both regional and global significance, given the role of the Bay of Bengal nations in the worldwide elasmobranch product market.
Authors: Alifa Bintha Haque, Rodrigo Oyanedel, Rachel D. Cavanagh