By Pratch Rujivanarom
Despite experts confirming that fishing and consuming spotted eagle ray is completely legal in Thailand, as Thai law still does not include the species in the country’s protected animal list, many people argued that the use of endangered species as cooking material on a popular TV show jeopardised the efforts to conserve these and other rare animals.
Earlier on World Wildlife Day, which highlighted the conservation of marine biodiversity, the reality cooking-competition show “MasterChef Thailand” had selected stingrays as the main ingredient for the programme.
However, it was noticed after the show had aired that the rays that had been used in the TV show were likely to have been the rare spotted eagle variety.
The discovery sparked a hot debate on social media over the legality and appropriateness of consuming this endangered marine species, with one side strongly pointing out that the consumption of endangered rays was unacceptable, while the other side argued that such stingrays were not that rare and their consumption was widespread in the Kingdom.
Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a leading marine biologist at Kasetsart University’s Faculty of Fisheries, said the exact ray species that had been used on the TV show had not yet been confirmed, but it was very likely the fish were one of two spotted eagle species – Aetobatus ocellatus, which can be found in the tropical Indo-West Pacific region, or Aetobatus narinari, which live in the Atlantic Ocean.
Photo courtesy of: www.cozumeloceanresearch.org
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), both spotted eagle ray species have conservation status, as they are endangered by unsustainable fishing and habitat loss and their populations are in decline.
Aetobatus ocellatus is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list, while Aetobatus narinari is listed as near-threatened, Thon said.
The marine biologist confirmed that despite the international conservation status of both species, their consumption on the TV show would have been legal, because these ray species were still not protected under Thailand’s animal conservation law.
Nevertheless, he said the use of endangered species with international conservation status as cooking material on mainstream media was inappropriate, because it may encourage the consumption of rare animal species and jeopardise biodiversity-conservation efforts.
As of press time, the “MasterChef Thailand” showrunner had not yet issued any clarification about the rays used in Sunday’s programme.