Demian Chapman, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Stony Brook University
Discovery Hall
City, State
Stony Brook, New York
United States
Award Year


Project Details

Using Genetic Testing to Track the Global Trade of Shark Fins

Shark populations worldwide have experienced heavy fishing pressure to supply the Asian dried seafood trade, in which their fins and meat are sold for shark fin soup. Amid concerns about declining shark populations, member countries of CITES voted in 2013 to list five threatened shark species under the convention's Appendix II, which requires permits to trade specimens. The species—oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, and three types of hammerheads—are among the most valuable and vulnerable sharks in international trade. If the Appendix II listings are effectively implemented, fins of these species would only come from regions where harvests are deemed sustainable by management authorities. 

In September 2014, these listings will go into effect and international trade of shark body parts, such as fins, will require export permits, certifying that it will not be detrimental to the survival of the species. Border control personnel all over the world will begin inspecting shipments of shark fins for illicit trade. This represents the first large-scale, internationally coordinated effort to regulate the shark fin trade on a species-specific basis. This complex endeavor requires ongoing capacity building and regular assessments of the process. 

The objectives of Chapman's Pew fellowship are twofold. First, he and his team will investigate the availability of CITES-listed species in trade before and after the listing. This research will help to explain the impact of CITES on the overall supply and on retail sales. And second, this new information will then be used in ongoing efforts to strengthen implementation of these listings, including targeted regional efforts to train border control personnel to identify the fins of listed species.


Demian Chapman, an assistant professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at New York’s Stony Brook University, is the author of numerous conservation in peer-reviewed journals such as Molecular Ecology, PLOS ONE, Biology Letters, and Science. Chapman uses genetic and electronic tagging data to help clarify population structure, dispersal, and reproductive patterns in marine vertebrates. He is also interested in the development of wildlife forensics resources for monitoring the global shark fin trade. 

His research highlights include the discovery of asexual reproduction (“virgin birth”) in sharks, the use of “DNA-zip coding” to determine the geographic origin of shark fins sold in Asia, and studies of lemon sharks over two decades, showing that sharks return to their birthplace to breed, similar to salmon and sea turtles. Chapman’s research has influenced development and zoning of marine protected areas in Belize and permanent protection for sharks in The Bahamas. He also serves on the scientific advisory board of the Pew global shark conservation initiative, the Grant Fund Committee of the American Elasmobranch Society, and as a member of the Shark Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

Chapman has recently focused on developing resources to support the listing of several shark species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, which limits international trade of listed species. Having developed genetic techniques to identify shark products, he became aware that the lack of visual identification tools for use in the field was a serious obstacle to enforcing CITES provisions by ensuring that listed species were not being sold illegally. In response, he developed two field identification guides for shark fins with his wife and research partner, Debra Abercrombie. These guides, together with a companion website and iPhone application, are being used to improve shark fin identification by law enforcement and border control personnel around the world. 

Chapman earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology and ecology from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and master’s and Ph.D. in oceanography and marine biology from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.