The East Asia (Hong Kong) office of TRAFFIC - the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network has recently published a report on the marine turtle trade in China and Japan. Its investigation is based mainly on confiscation and seizure records for the period 2000-2008, as well as wide-ranging market surveys conducted in 2009. Although the contents are somewhat dated, the 48-page report provides some useful insights into the international and domestic turtle trade involving these two countries, both of which share a long cultural association with this valuable commodity.
Hainan Province in southern China is highlighted as a pivotal location for illegal trade: the point of origin of a majority of illegal fishers, the place of landing of a majority of catches, and the main source for processing and distributing turtle products to mainland China. Evidence from limited enforcement actions and other information sources indicate that vessels operating from Hainan ply the waters of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, directly targeting mostly green and hawksbill turtles.
TRAFFIC conducted market surveys in more than a dozen cities in selected provinces in the east and south of China. Besides giving an indication of the scale and scope of the commercial trade in 2009, the surveys suggest a growing awareness of the illicit nature of the trade among those who participate in it, but an apparent willingness to continue in the light of inadequate monitoring and enforcement actions by the authorities.
The report also describes a bekko craft industry in Japan in a state of decline, dependant on dwindling stockpiles of old raw material, but apparently supplemented by illegal consignments of hawksbill scutes arriving by post or air.
The TRAFFIC report provides a good overview of the legislation and regulations governing the trade in both China and Japan, as well as a historical summary of international trade controls within the framework of CITES.
A number of recommendations are made with regard to strengthened enforcement action and sharing of intelligence among concerned countries (particularly those participating in the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network), enhanced public awareness in key markets in China, and research into the economic incentives that drive the trade. Also included among the recommendations is a call for China and Japan to become signatories to the IOSEA Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding.
Since the source material for the report was originally compiled – some 3 to 4 years ago – it is probably safe to say that there have been many more confiscations, seizures and poaching operations in the so-called Coral Triangle region, some of them well publicised, to support a growing demand for marine turtle products in China. The report makes reference to other internal TRAFFIC studies of marine turtle trade in the Philippines (2009) and Indonesia (2009), which have not been published, and suggests that both Taiwan and the Republic of Korea warrant a similar assessment.
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Click download from the TRAFFIC website:
Market Forces: An Examination of Marine Turtle Trade in China and Japan (PDF, 1.5 MB)