DNA-based identification reveals illegal trade of threatened shark species in a global elasmobranch conservation hotspot
Here, we report trading of endangered shark species in a world hotspot for elasmobranch conservation in Brazil. Data on shark fisheries are scarce in Brazil, although the northern and northeastern regions have the highest indices of shark bycatch. Harvest is made primarily with processed carcasses lacking head and fins, which hampers reliable species identification and law enforcement on illegal catches. We used partial sequences of two mitochondrial genes (COI and/or NADH2) to identify 17 shark species from 427 samples being harvested and marketed on the northern coast of Brazil. Nine species (53%) are listed under some extinction threat category according to Brazilian law and international authorities (IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature; CITES – Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The number increases to 13 (76%) if we also consider the Near Threatened category. Hammerhead sharks are under threat worldwide, and composed 18.7% of samples, with Sphyrna mokarran being the fourth most common species among samples. As illegal trade of threatened shark species is a worldwide conservation problem, molecular identification of processed meat or specimens lacking diagnostic body parts is a highly effective tool for species identification and law enforcement.