Sunday, February 1, 2015

Yap Protect Sharks

On Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, an unveiling ceremony was held at the Yap International Airport terminal to commemorate Yap state’s stance on shark protection and marine conservation. The short ceremony commenced seven minutes after 3 p.m. in the afternoon, in the waiting area/arrivals entrance of the airport terminal.

Attending the event were leaders of the Yap State Government — the 9th Yap State Legislature, the Office of the Governor, the Council of Pilung, and the Council of Tamol — the Yap Fishing Authority, Yap Community Action Program, Marine Resources Management Division, Yap Environmental Protection Agency, airport management as well as the representative of the project’s spearheading entity, the Micronesia Conservation Trust or MCT.

Master of ceremony Tim Ruda, also an employee of the airport management, opened the ceremony by welcoming everyone and then introducing MCT’s capacity-building program manager Betty Tulensa Sigrah.

After offering her salutations on behalf of herself and MCT Executive Director Willy Kostka to the gathered state leaders and entities, Sigrah began her remarks by emphasizing the momentous occasion, as it showed a unified understanding of the importance of ocean resources and a unified commitment to safeguard those resources.

She shared that an estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually. Sharks are a crucial part of the marine ecosystem and island heritage; as such, several Pacific and Asian nations have made commitments to save sharks in recent years, including, among others, the Cook Islands. French Polynesia, the Marshall Islands, and popularly Palau.

She went on to share the history leading to the occasion, starting from the commitment of the 2011 Micronesian Chief Executive Summit to create a Micronesian shark sanctuary, to the Pacific movement for more shark protection.

Within the Federated States of Micronesia, the four states have worked on legislations concerning shark protection — starting with Kosrae in 2012, Pohnpei and Yap in 2013, and Chuuk in 2014 — with the ultimate goal of having the entire FSM declared a shark sanctuary.

She shared that national legislation for such an act is currently under review with the FSM attorney general, and bids Yap to request the [resident for a swift declaration of the FSM shark sanctuary. She acknowledged the many collaborations along the way that made the entire endeavor possible, and also recognized Yap Community Action Program for its work in Yap.

On behalf of the 9th Legislature of the State of Yap, Speaker Theodore “Ted” Rutun spoke next. He thanked Betty for coming to all the way to Yap, and expressed his gratitude to her and MCT for their commitment to saving the sharks and safeguarding natural heritage.

He noted that the unveiling of the message board at the airport will reveal a whole lot — mainly to incoming visitors and the public that Yap recognizes and protects its sharks and marine resources. Speaker Rutun stated that Yap already has a law in place providing for the protection of sharks as well as whales and dolphins — Yap State Law 8-44 — since June 17, 2013.

He also shared that another conservation measure concerning the humphead wrasse is pending with Legislature.

However, Speaker Rutun cautioned that despite protective legislation, active patrolling and surveillance of FSM waters is essential for such measures to be effective, and bids MCT and the national government to set up such a system, especially in Yap state’s vast marine territory.

He also requested of MCT to share identified endangered species so that Yap may also work to protect them.

Following the speaker’s remarks was Lt. Gov. James Yangetmai’s witty speech. After joking that his first remarks after becoming the lt. governor was this unveiling, he assured everyone that he will not forget the memorable occasion.

He recognized the speaker, representatives of the Council of Pilung and the Council of Tamol, Mrs. Sigrah and the gathering to the occasion.

He shared his childhood memory in Ifalik Atoll and how even then he was taught to respect sharks; sharks are an inherent part of the island heritage and marine ecosystem. He then thanked everyone responsible for the momentous undertaking.

After the remarks, the unveiling of the message board took place, with refreshments provided. Within the arrivals area and above one of the customs tables of the terminal was the board. With a background of a traditional meeting house on one side and several sharks swimming in the deep ocean on the other, the message on the board reads, “Welcome to Yap, where sharks are protected — Healthy Reefs Need Sharks.” On the bottom right corner are the symbols for MCT, Yap state government and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

More than 8,000 Micronesian students have signed a petition in support of national FSM shark protections. The signers come from all four states of the FSM, Palau, the Northern Marianas, the Marshall Islands, and Guam.

“The first step in protecting sharks is putting a strong law in place. We are so pleased that Yap is showcasing their state shark protection law. We sincerely hope that the National Congress will soon follow suit and protect sharks in FSM’s full EEZ by passing a law this session,” said Willy Kostka, executive director for the Micronesia Conservation Trust.

For more information on the Micronesia Conservation Trust, visit its website at

Friday, January 30, 2015

Barack Obama Upholds CNMI Shark Fin Trade Ban

The federal government has retreated from their attempt to overturn the shark fin trade ban in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.  In a letter dated December 16, 2014, Eileen Sobeck, NOAA assistant administrator for fisheries wrote "CNMI's law will have minimal impact on federally managed fishermen in CNMI...and is therefore consistent with and not preempted by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, as amended by the Shark Conservation Act of 2010."

We've written about this issue extensively over the last few years.  Kudos to President Barack Obama and his officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as CNMI Governor Eloy Inos for coming to a compromise in the best interest of sharks.

And remember those amazing kids on Guam who are trying to uphold their law?  Their law is still under threat and they still need your help.  Below are a few ideas for you to help:

Use social media to get the attention of elected officials: Tweet at Guam Governor, Eddie Calvo (@governorcalvo), and post on U.S. Representative Madeline Bordallo’s Facebook page and ask them to stand up for Guam and our sharks by making sure that NOAA doesn’t wipe out our local shark protections. 

Let NOAA know you want to preserve shark protections: Write to decision makers at NOAA and politely ask them to preserve our local conservation laws.  You can email  Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator.

Write an email to local and national elected officials: Contact Guam Governor, Eddie Calvo and U.S. Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo and ask them to fight to preserve our local shark protections.

Write a letter to the editor.  Write a short (250 words or fewer) letter to your local newspaper to help spread the word about the threat to shark protection laws.  If you need help with talking points, check out this blog.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Real Change Coming to Discovery Channel Shark Week?

Discovery Channel just announced that they are holding Shark Week a month early this year. The annual Superbowl of shark programming will run July 5-12, with an additional weekend of new programming in August.

One wonders if this is part of new president Rich Ross's pledge to rid Discovery programming of man eating anaconda stunts and fake mermaid shows?

Yet they announced they have filmed a sequel to Great White Serial Killer. Shark blogger David Shiffman calls the original "pseudoscientific fearmongering nonsense that should not be getting a sequel" and put it in the category of Worst of Shark Week 2013 in an article for Wired.

We don't want to see more of this crap. Last year we started a campaign for people to protest Discovery's lack of scientific integrity by posting funny fake Shark Week facts using the hashtag #FakeSharkWeekFacts. Hundreds of you responded. Come on Discovery! Your audience wants a #RealSharkWeek, not more #FakeSharkWeekFacts

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Palau Nabs Illegal Fishing Vessel

Palau President Tommy Remengesau and Matt Rand of The Pew Charitable Trusts
On 21 January the President of Palau’s office participated in the launch of Project Eyes on the Seas, a technology system that will help monitor, detect, and respond to suspected illegal fishing activity across the world.

This system was developed by Satellite Applications Catapult, a British company established through a U.K. government initiative and The Pew Charitable Trusts, a U.S. non-governmental organization that President Tommy Remengesau has asked to assist with an enforcement plan for the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS). Project Eyes on the Seas and its marine sanctuary Virtual Watch Room will be available to assist with protection of the PNMS.

The Palau Marine Law Enforcement is putting illegal fishing vessels on notice. “Palau is working with our security partners in the U.S., Australia and Japan as well as organizations like Pew to develop a surveillance and enforcement system that ensures bad actors cannot run or hide in Palau’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone).” The President said.

“I certainly commend and thank Pew and its development partners for making this pioneering effort possible for Palau. This is an outstanding first step in Palau’s efforts to fully monitor and protect its EEZ. In less than 24 hours after launching Project Eyes on the Seas, Palau’s Marine Law Enforcement Monitoring team coordinated with the H.I. Remeliik for the successful apprehension of a suspected Illegal fishing vessel they have been monitoring since December 8, 2014”. President Remengesau said.

“Pew and its partners have helped to deliver on their commitment to making the PNMS a reality. If the PNMS legislation was already in effect, the effort to protect and enforce Palau's waters would be greatly enhanced and with the proper fines in place, a significant deterrent would be set. The Republic of Palau must now deliver with the PNMS legislation pending in congress. I would also like to add that if the PNMS had been passed and in place already, we would be looking at a fine for this vessel of $500,000 to 1 million dollars should it be convicted of illegal fishing.” President Remengesau added.

The proposed Palau National Marine Sanctuary, which –once finalized –will ban all foreign fishing in Palau’s EEZ and create a 500,000 square kilometer fully protected marine reserve. Legislation to formally designate the PNMS is pending in the Palau Congress and has a number of provisions to enhance prosecution of illegal fishing including increasing the maximum fine from $50,000 to $1 million USD and confiscation of fishing equipment. In addition, it provides for $1 million punitive fines to “replace” the lost resource and allow for confiscation of the vessel.

In early 2015 - in partnership with Pew and Scripps Institution of Oceanography - Palau will host a Marine Control, Surveillance and Enforcement workshop to develop a comprehensive plan to protect Palau’s EEZ from illegal fishing and other illicit activities. The workshop will include issue experts from Palau’s partner nations as well as non-governmental organizations.
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