Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shark Protections in Marshall Islands Moving Forward

Whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) on the coral reef near Rita, Majuro, Marshall Islands
Marshall Islands Mayors Association calls on all local councils to ban shark fishing

This week the Marshall Islands Mayors Association passed a resolution requesting all local governments in the RMI to enact ordinances prohibiting the sale and trade of shark or shark fins.

The resolution recognized the critical role that sharks play in healthy coral reef ecosystems, and the efforts being made in shark protection by the Micronesian jurisdictions of Palau, Guam and CNMI, as well as other areas including the Bahamas, Hondruas, Maldives, and Hawaii. The resolution further recognized the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority for the moratorium on the sale of shark fins.

Without sharks to regulate the abundance of species below them, shifts in populations of species can disrupt the balance of the ecosystem. In the Marshall Islands, the loss of reef sharks may result in an increase in numbers of large fish. These large fish could then eat all the smaller fish and we risk losing our favorite food fish such as Mole, Kwi, Mone and others from the reef, according to the Marshall Islands Conservation Society.

This has another serious affect on the health of the reef, said officials with the Conservation Society. If fish, which eat algae, are reduced in number, algae will grow over the coral, killing the reefs and leaving the islands more vulnerable to climate change.

Sharks have a long life cycle and reproduce late in life, so they are very sensitive to fishing pressure - and an estimated 70 million sharks are killed each year for fins alone. Shark fins are used for soup, mostly in restaurants and primarily in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

MICS said in the RMI, shark fins are being traded for around $2 per pound on the outer islands. Meanwhile those same fins are sold for up to $700 a pound in the markets of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is the traders who are benefiting, not Marshallese, said MICS.

Albon Ishoda, Director of
Marshall Islands Conservation Society

"Who are the losers?" asked Albon Ishoda, director of MICS. "If we lose our sharks, we could lose our food fish. We could lose our healthy reefs. And the world could lose these amazing creatures that have been on earth for over 400 million years as they are hunted to extinction."

"If we can take that bowl of soup, that one item off the menu, we can save our ecosystems all over the world," says Stefanie Brendl, a shark expert from Hawaii who was in Majuro last week discussing the global movement to protect sharks. There are reports that the levels of shark finning occurring on some outer islands may have damaged the populations already and they may take many years to recover.

Published in the Marshall Islands Journal on July 21, 2011. Follow the shark conservation efforts in the Marshall Islands on Facebook with the Marshall Islands Conservation Society and Micronesia Shark Defenders.

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