Tag: Asia

Endangered species on supermarket shelves

Lab reveals the surprising prevalence of European Eel in Hong Kong’s food supply

Imagine purchasing products from your local grocer, only to find out that those products are comprised of critically endangered species! That’s what a team from the University of Hong Kong, Division of Ecology and Biodiversity has recently discovered on Hong Kong supermarket shelves. A team led by Dr David Baker from the University’s Conservation Forensics laboratory, has recently published the results from an investigation into European eel products on sale in Hong Kong supermarkets.

The study, published in Science Advances, found that nearly 50% of retail eel products, ranging from fillets to snack items from grocers and convenience stores, contained a critically endangered species of fish. According to the IUCN, The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is at risk of extinction. For this reason, trade in European eels and their food product derivatives is subject to international regulation under the Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). CITES is meant to ensure that permits are required for their import and export in an effort to regulate trade and foster conservation.

Eel, extremely popular in East Asia and particularly Japan, has traditionally been fished from East Asian populations of the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica). However, overexploitation due to growing demand from Mainland China and a combination of threats ranging from rising ocean temperatures, parasites, and dammed rivers have led to dramatic declines in eel populations. This is true not only for European and Japanese species, but also for their American and Indo-Pacific relatives.

To satisfy demand for eel in East Asia, juvenile eels (known as glass eels) are caught while swimming upstream in their native range spanning Europe and North Africa, and smuggled to Asia to be raised to maturity. To date, captive breeding of eels has not been economically viable; wild-caught glass eels are thus used to “seed” eel farms. In recent years the illegal trade has been highlighted by a number of high-profile investigations and increasing prosecutions.

“The illegal export of glass eels from Europe to Asia has now been recognised as one of the world’s greatest wildlife crimes and Europol has estimated the scale of over 300 million eels (2018 data) annually. The next step is to investigate the global consumer markets to identify where these trafficked eels are eventually consumed. The numbers from Hong Kong are very alarming and reflect the huge amounts of European eels that are being farmed in Asia. It is now up to individual countries to investigate the scale of European eels entering their national food chains illegally.” -Florian Stein, Sustainable Eel Group

The international trade in glass eels is incredibly lucrative. One kilogram of glass eels can contain up to 3,500 individuals and has been recorded selling for over HKD$50,000 on the black market. This highly profitable trade has attracted the attention of international criminal syndicates, who smuggle glass eels in suitcases from Europe to Asia for resale. In their juvenile stages, eels are extremely difficult to identify to the species level. The two most common cousins of the endangered European eel (the Japanese and American eel) are not listed in CITES, therefore no permit is required for their trade. Because of the challenges in visual identification, endangered European eels can be laundered along with their legally traded relatives.

Already, the existence of Europe-Asia smuggling routes has been documented, but the ultimate destination of the smuggled eels remained elusive. Originally conceived as an undergraduate project looking at seafood mislabeling, the investigation into European eel took off when students noticed a surprising amount of European eel present in supermarket products.

“The eel project is the most exciting thing I have done during my undergraduate study in HKU. I once thought research was only for postgraduates and professors, but it turns out I, even as a student, was able to do meaningful research that actually made an impact in illegal trading. This has made me more determined to continue work in environmental fields.” -Haze Chung, Year 4 Undergraduate Researcher

The study covered a wide range of Hong Kong supermarkets and convenience stores across all districts. Surprisingly, almost 50% of the eel products surveyed were determined to be European eel. The results from this study suggested that large scale smuggling networks trafficking European eels are interwoven with local supplier chains, resulting in endangered species ending up on supermarket shelves, totally unbeknownst to consumers.

Meet Siamraptor suwati

Meet Siamraptor suwati, a new species of giant predatory dinosaur from Thailand

Fossils discovered in Thailand represent a new genus and species of predatory dinosaur, according to a study released October 9, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Duangsuda Chokchaloemwong of Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University, Thailand and colleagues. 

Carcharodontosaurs were a widespread and successful group of large predatory dinosaurs during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods and were important members of ecosystems on multiple continents. However, the fossil record of these animals is notably lacking from the Early Cretaceous of Asia, with no definite carcharodontosaurs known from Southeast Asia.

In this study, Chokchaloemwong and colleagues describe fossil material from the Khok Kruat geologic formation in Khorat, Thailand, dating to the Early Cretaceous. These fossils include remains of the skull, backbone, limbs, and hips of at least four individual dinosaurs, and morphological comparison with known species led the authors to identify these remains as belonging to a previously unknown genus and species of carcharodontosaur which they named Siamraptor suwati

Phylogenetic analysis indicates that Siamraptor is a basal member of the carcharodontosaurs, meaning it represents a very early evolutionary split from the rest of the group. It is also the first definitive carcharodontosaur known from Southeast Asia, and combined with similarly-aged finds from Europe and Africa, it reveals that this group of dinosaurs had already spread to three continents by the Early Cretaceous.

The authors summarize their work as follows: “A Siam predator: New carnivorous dinosaur Siamraptor suwati discovered in Thailand.

Image Caption: Siamraptor skull reconstruction

Image Credit: Chokchaloemwong et al., 2019

Citation: Chokchaloemwong D, Hattori S, Cuesta E, Jintasakul P, Shibata M, Azuma Y (2019) A new carcharodontosaurian theropod (Dinosauria: Saurischia) from the Lower Cretaceous of Thailand. PLoS ONE 14(10): e0222489. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222489

Funding: This work was supported by the Fukui Prefectural Government, Japan, and Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University, Thailand. EC research was financed by a Postdoctoral Fellowship program of the Japan Society of Promotion of Science (JSPS) (Ref. PE18034). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.