An increasing awareness of the vulnerability of sharks to exploitation by shark finning has contributed to a growing concern about an unsustainable shark fishery. Taiwan’s fleet has the 4th largest shark catch in the world, accounting for almost 6% of the global figures. Revealing the diversity of sharks consumed by Taiwanese is important in designing conservation plans. However, fins make up less than 5% of the total body weight of a shark, and their bodies are sold as filets in the market, making it difficult or impossible to identify species using morphological traits.
In the present study, we adopted a DNA barcoding technique using a 391-bp fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene to examine the diversity of shark filets and fins collected from markets and restaurants island-wide in Taiwan.
Amongst the 548 tissue samples collected and sequenced, 20 major clusters were apparent by phylogenetic analyses, each of them containing individuals belonging to the same species (most with more than 95% bootstrap values), corresponding to 20 species of sharks. Additionally, Alopias pelagicus, Carcharhinus falciformis, Isurus oxyrinchus, and Prionace glauca consisted of 80% of the samples we collected, indicating that these species might be heavily consumed in Taiwan. Approximately 5% of the tissue samples used in this study were identified as species listed in CITES Appendix II, including two species of Sphyrna, C. longimanus and Carcharodon carcharias.
DNA barcoding provides an alternative method for understanding shark species composition when species-specific data is unavailable. Considering the global population decline, stock assessments of Appendix II species and highly consumed species are needed to accomplish the ultimate goal of shark conservation.