Malagasy people (from the island of Madagascar) attach no value to shark fins. But this doesn't mean that they don't hunt thousands of sharks each year. That's because Chinese demand for shark fin soup, traditionally served at wedding banquets is fueling the trade. And though a bowl of shark fin soup can sell for as much as $100 U.S., the shark fin itself is incredibly cheap in Madagascar before it's shipped to market in exported to Hong Kong.
Garth Cripps, a senior conservation scientist with Blue Ventures working in Madagascar, one of the world's poorest countries, says that Asian demand is to blame for the value place on shark fin -- not local need. Cripps writes about his experiences in Madagascar for National Geographic [Warning: Link contains disturbing images]:
I hadn't misheard: these fins are worth 1,000 Ariary, or about 50 cents U.S. That's the price of three small cups of rice, a simple meal for a small family.
According to Cripps shark meat in Madagascar sells for a fraction of the price of chicken and is often considered poor man's food. In order to lessen shark fishing, he says, Malagasy people shouldn't have to rely so much on money from the Chinese market for fins.
Social marketing campaigns in China, as well as the Chinese government's ban on the dish at official banquets, are thought to be reducing the demand for shark fins. But here in Madagascar, poverty and the Vezo's [the coastal people of southern Madagascar who fish most of the sharks] ingrained way of life mean that shark fishing will continue. The battle to protect sharks here is more one of alleviating poverty amongst traditional fishing communities.