Shark ecotourism currently generates more than $314 million annually worldwide and is expected reach $780 million in the next 20 years, whereas the landed value of global shark fisheries is at $630 million and has been in decline for the past decade, they said.
The researchers, with colleagues from the University of Hawaii and Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur in Mexico examined shark fisheries and shark ecotourism data from 70 sites in 45 countries.
"The emerging shark tourism industry attracts nearly 600,000 shark watchers annually, directly supporting 10,000 jobs," UBC doctoral candidate Andres Cisneros-Montemayor said. "It is abundantly clear that leaving sharks in the ocean is worth much more than putting them on the menu."
An estimated 38 million sharks were killed in 2009 to feed the global fin trade alone, the researches said, presenting a significant threat to all shark species.
"Sharks are slow to mature and produce few offspring," said Rashid Sumaila, senior study author and director of UBC's Fisheries Center said. "The protection of live sharks, especially through dedicated protected areas, can benefit a much wider economic spectrum while helping the species recover."
The economic study has been published in Oryx -- The International Journal of Conservation.