Sea Shepherd call for Giam Choo Hoo to be removed from CITES

Call to remove Singaporean from UN wildlife body
Grace Chua Straits Times 27 Mar 12;

MARINE conservation group Sea Shepherd has called for the removal of Singaporean wildlife consultant Giam Choo Hoo from a prominent United Nations group that regulates endangered-species trade.

Dr Giam represents Asia on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) Animal Committee, which provides scientific evaluation of the threats that species face.

He was also formerly deputy director at the Primary Production Department, the predecessor of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Responding to charges of conflict of interest against him yesterday, Dr Giam maintained that non-governmental organisations and media hype were responsible for 'misinformation' about shark's fin, and that demand for it is not the main driver of shark extinction.

Rather, he said, bycatch and European consumption of sharks for their meat are the main drivers. So banning the trade in shark's fin will not reduce the number of sharks killed worldwide.

He repeatedly declined to comment on his purported links to the shark's fin industry, saying: 'Anything else that I have to say about myself is irrelevant.'

Last week, Sea Shepherd, a United States-based breakaway group from high-profile environmental organisation Greenpeace International, accused Dr Giam of being a representative of the shark's fin industry, which it said is driving some shark species to extinction.

It said this was a conflict of interest, and asked that Cites introduce conflict-of-interest provisos just as other UN bodies have done.

In a statement, Sea Shepherd claimed that a recently published 50-page report from an independent investigator brought to light a 'major conflict of interest case where the main culprit, Dr Giam Choo Hoo, has been using his position of power to influence and lobby those within Cites against any protection of shark species'.

But it did not provide details on Dr Giam's supposed involvement in the shark's fin industry. It only claimed he had introduced himself to American author Juliet Eilperin in Hong Kong in 2007 as 'a representative of the shark's fin industry in Singapore'. The NGO could not be reached yesterday.

Dr Giam was previously leader of Singapore's Cites delegation from 1986 to 1995. He drafted Singapore's Cites law and was responsible for its implementation. He was also Singapore's Chief Veterinary Officer and an independent director of crocodile-skin trader Heng Long International till the firm was bought by luxury-brand giant LVMH.

Some 80 million to 100 million sharks are caught each year by some estimates, as bycatch in the fishing industry, deliberately for shark's fin or for sport, but the breakdown of those figures is not available.

Singapore abides by the Cites agreement, under which the basking shark, whale shark, Great White Shark and sawfishes are protected species, and their trade is strictly regulated. Here, only licensed fish dealers are allowed to import sharks and shark's fin.

However, marine biologist Chua Sek Chuan pointed out that too little is known about many shark species to decide on their status: 'Just because only one species is on Cites does not mean that the other species of sharks are not critically endangered.'

As of yesterday, a Sea Shepherd petition for Dr Giam's removal had garnered more than 6,200 signatures globally and the support of 24 other NGOs.

The group is aiming for 40,000 signatures. The petition will be submitted to Cites and Singapore's Ministry of National Development, which oversees the AVA, Singapore's Cites authority.

Shark defender's plea
Straits Times Forum 5 Apr 12;

I HAVE stopped eating shark's fin soup after becoming aware of its destructive impact on shark populations ('Call to remove Singaporean from UN wildlife body'; March 27). As an avid diver, I witness shark populations dwindling each time I go diving around the region.

The high value of fins and the comparatively low interest in shark meat mean that it is the taste for shark's fin that is depleting shark populations. As a Chinese Singaporean, I have lost the appetite for a soup I've grown up with.

Singapore can take the lead in reversing a trade and consumption trend that is ultimately unsustainable and destructive. It will be fitting for the country to propose a listing of the 14 shark species most targeted by shark's fin traders, and identified as threatened or near threatened with extinction.

As more and more of my generation turn away from shark's fin soup, it is time for Singapore to put healthy oceans and a sustainable future ahead of the interests of a destructive trade that is largely unregulated, unreported and underground. It is time for us to take the lead to protect sharks.

Jonn Benedict Lu