Ellie Matthew – February 2024

When most people think of the illegal wildlife trade they tend to think of elephants for their ivory tusks, or sharks for their fins. But perhaps an illegal wildlife trade that few people know about is the illusive one of fish maw.

The swim bladders (called maw) of fish are vital for fish to maintain their buoyancy. The maw is made of collagen and has a variety of uses for humans such as traditional medicine, cosmetics, and fining of wine and beer. Demand has increased in the last decade, and it’s resulted in an expansion of unregulated fishing and illegal trade in fish maw. Additionally, the trade of fish maw is commonly secretive meaning we don’t know about the species used and where or how they are being caught. SFACT have been providing funding for an international online workshop with the aim of developing an overview of the state of knowledge on the fish maw trade.

The workshops were attended by participants from approximately 20 countries including Germany, United Arab Emirates, India, China, Australia and Colombia, and has helped to build a better picture of the fish maw trade. We now know that the purpose of the trade varies between its locations. There is trade in both Asia, where maw is sought for culinary and or celebratory purposes, and Europe, where maw is used to make isinglass; dried collagen that brewers use to clarify beer and wine. Several recommendations have been made following the workshops surrounding the trade, fisheries management and education and awareness raising. The workshops were successful in increasing our knowledge of the trade but also highlighted the need for more information and more angles to explore so that the fish maw trade can be further understood.

Photo credit: Food Shop

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