The USA’s international trade in fish leather, from a conservation perspective

This paper provides the first analysis of imports and exports of fish leather by the USA. Estimates of minimum levels of trade were obtained from the records of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for 1997–2001, and possible conservation consequences were considered. Data show that imported leather items used the skins of at least 51 types of fish.

Of the 41 identified to species level, six were freshwater fish, eight diadromous and 27 were fully marine. Eels and hagfishes (marketed as ‘eelskin’; eight named species), stingrays (10 named species) and sharks (15 named species) dominated the trade. An average of 725 000 fish-leather products, worth over US$ 6 million, was imported each year to the USA. A significant decline in fish leather imports over the five-year period studied derived largely from changes in ‘eelskin’ imports.

Fish leather in the USA was reportedly sourced primarily from the Republic of Korea, mainland China and Thailand, although the records were flawed. About 93% of leather products were obtained from wild fish. Exports from the USA totalled approximately 5% of imports by volume.

Many of the fish species comprising the largest imports for leather were characterized by low resilience to exploitation, with one-third of known species considered threatened or near threatened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). This pilot assessment indicates the need for better record keeping if sustainability of fish exploitation for leather is to be evaluated.

Grey, M., Blais, A.-M., Hunt, B. and A.C.J. Vincent. 2006. The United States of America’s international trade in fish leather, from a conservation perspective. Environmental Conservation 33(2):100-108.