Posted by: reefrescue | August 19, 2010

Manta rays next on restaurant menus

Manta rays next on restaurant menus as shark populations plummet

Conservationists fear a falling shark population is prompting Asian chefs to look for manta and devil rays to help meet the voracious demand for shark fin soup.

Found in coastal waters throughout the world, rays present an easy target as they swim slowly near the surface with their huge wings. So far, they have escaped commercial exploitation and have been hunted only by small numbers of subsistence fishermen, who traditionally catch them using harpoons.

But the growing demand for the manta ray (Manta birostris) and its close cousin the devil ray (of the Mobula genus) is turning ray fishing into an export operation. In the eastern Indonesian port of Lamakera, catches of manta have rocketed from a few hundred to about 1,500 a year.

“Mantas and mobulas are being used as shark fin soup filler,” said Tim Clark, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii. He said the cartilage was being mixed with low-grade shark fins in cheap versions of the soup. “The life history of manta rays makes them highly susceptible to overfishing,” he added.

With a life span thought to be well over 50 years, the fish reach sexual maturity only in their teens, at which time they produce one pup every one to three years.

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