Baselworld – a horror movie
The watch and jewellery fair “Baselworld” took place in Basel in the first week of
April. This year the luxury watch firm CORUM from La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland,
took the biscuit. According to their booth staff, 9000 stingray were killed for the lining
of their two-storeyed stand.
The black pearly skin of the stingray has a white almond-shaped patch at the point
where the tail starts; a single stingray produces a small leather patch just 15 x 20 cm
Stingrays (lat. Dasyatidae) belong -- together with sharks -- to the group of the
Elasmobranch; their exploitation (which is world-wide) is not regulated. Often only the
fins of sharks are eaten; they end up on the menu as shark-fin soup. Fins can be cut
off easily, they are packed and transported efficiently and command horrendous
prices on the Asian market. You can also find shark fin soup in Swiss Chinese
Restaurants. Rays on the other hand are eaten as steaks; however, the biggest
threat to them is fisheries bycatch: rays are caught and discarded as undesirable
catch. Most suffer fatal injuries in the process; often, fishermen quickly slice off their
fins before throwing them back into the water.
Rays and sharks evolved 400 million years ago. They grow very slowly; some
species only reach sexual maturity at the age of 25 (for example the whale shark).
Gestation can take up to two years (for example in the spiny dogfish), and they only
give birth to a low number of offspring. It is therefore obvious that they cannot cope
with additional exploitation by humans, and certainly cannot adapt as quickly as
would be necessary; human interference is an unexpected and unwelcome factor in
These animals enjoy practically no protection at all. Only a few species of this group
were protected at least partially through CITES (Convention on International Trade of
Endangered Species) in 2004. These are the White Shark, the Basking and the
Whale shark. As all other 1200 Elasmobranchs are not regulated by any protection or
commercial agreements, they can be traded without any restriction whatsoever. The
lobby of the industry is too strong (and well connected with the political powers).
Scientists have been pointing out the risk of extinction for a long time; of the stingray
species (the group preferred by the producers of leather goods), nine are already
close to extinction. Companies that trade in these goods reassure their clients on
their internet sites that the animals are plentiful, allowing unproblematic exploitation.
However, the World Conservation Union IUCN, which maintains the Red List of
threatened species, stated on February 20th, 2006 that rays and sharks belong to
the most endangered species in Europe.
3rd April, 2006
Monica Biondo, marine biologist, Bern
Hubelmattstrasse 48, 3007 Berne, 031 371 27 75