Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Taiwan Shark Finning Ban: Not Enough

Hat tip to DaShark in Fiji:
Taiwan has recently announced that they want to ban shark finning (the practice of removing a shark's fins and discarding the body at sea).

I was under-impressed then and having recently discovered the sheer scope of Taiwan's declared Shark "bycatch" in the WCPFC, I'm even less impressed now. Having depleted their own seas, Taiwan's appalling distant-water fleets scour the global oceans and the Shark fins (certainly NOT the meat and skin!) are offloaded in distant ports and then airlifted home.

That's where the massacre happens and I very much doubt than any Taiwanese fins-attached policy will be enforced that far from home. Plus, legislation like that is archaic and comes much too late for any endangered Shark species, the more as it has become painfully evident that most countries simply lack the resources, and the political will for ever monitoring and enforcing those rules.

What is required now are fishing bans, not band-aid solutions.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ACTION ALERT: Your Online Vote Could Secure $10,000 for Shark Research

Shark blogger and graduate student David Shiffman is 24 hours and a few votes away from winning a $10,000 blogging scholarship for his shark research at the University of Miami -- but he needs your help now!


David Shiffman gave a presentation on the power of online shark advocacy at the International Marine Conservation Congress earlier this year in Victoria, BC, Canada, even mentioning Shark Defenders by name. Let's prove him right and help David Shiffman to win this scholarship.

This is what David Shiffman has to say about this scholarship:
"If I win, the money will be used to support shark conservation research. It will be supplies for my dissertation work, which focuses on the ecological importance of sharks to coral reef ecosystems. It will be used to support our lab's citizen science program, which has taken over 1,000 high school students and teachers into the field to learn about sharks and participate in an active research program. Additionally, I will adopt a satellite tagged shark in the name of the readers of Southern Fried Science, which they can name (through a contest) and follow on Google Earth."
So please take a moment to follow this link and vote for David Shiffman. He is the only ocean conservation blogger among the finalists, so let's help him win. And after you vote, please post the link to Facebook and Twitter and ask your followers to vote for David Shiffman.

Thank you very much for your assistance!

Fiji considers sanctuary designation

Fiji’s reputation as a leader in marine conservation may be enhanced if a proposal made by the Ministry of Primary Industries’ Department of Fisheries and Forests advances next month. The agency is considering measures that would ban the commercial fishing and trade of sharks and their parts, including fins. The proposal is being drafted, and if it advances in the Cabinet, new legislation could be in place before year’s end.

The government has the support of traditional leaders, as well as the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) and the Pew Environment Group, nonprofit organizations that last month launched a campaign to raise community awareness about the importance of sharks in Fiji.

“A national shark sanctuary in Fiji would be a huge victory for these animals,” said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group. “This action would close down a major hub in the Pacific for the trafficking of fins and highlight Fiji as home to the world’s second-largest shark sanctuary.”

The proposed Fiji National Shark Sanctuary, encompassing the country’s 1.3-million-square-kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone, would be the first of its kind in Melanesia. It is modeled after similar conservation measures in the Marshall Islands, Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas, and Tokelau.

According to Fisheries Department annual reports, the country’s exports in 2003 were 180 metric tons of shark products. Most of Fiji’s shark fins are exported. “We don’t eat shark,” said Ratu Lalabalavu, who has expressed support for a national shark sanctuary in his capacity as the traditional leader of the Tovata Confederacy. “We feel that we are doing justice to something that is very much part of our life and our history in protecting sharks.” The heads of the Burebasaga Confederacy and Kubuna Confederacy also support the designation of Fijian waters for shark conservation.
“The Fijian people have a long history of supporting locally managed marine areas,” said Rick MacPherson, conservation programs director at CORAL. “This strong cultural connection to the reefs makes our job easier as we work alongside the Fijian community to develop an effective sanctuary for sharks that benefits both the marine ecosystem and the people who rely on it. This shark movement is an excellent opportunity for us to use our resources to unite a nation to protect marine ecosystems.”

Sharks are significant to the health of coral reefs. “A reef without sharks is a sick reef,” said Demian Chapman, PhD, a shark scientist at Stony Brook University in New York, who in March provided an assessment of the shark fin trade for fisheries officials in Fiji’s capital, Suva. As top ocean predators, sharks regulate the populations of prey species and potentially the overall health of the ocean, according to Chapman. Falling populations of these animals might even lead to general coral reef decline. “There is a clear empirical association between thriving shark populations and healthy coral reef ecosystems,” he said.

Chapman found that the shark fin trade in Suva includes the sale of thousands of fins from sharks that are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, such as scalloped hammerhead (Endangered) and silky, blacktip reef, and bull sharks (all Near Threatened). His assessment also found trade in fins from shark species that live and breed on the reef, and are important for ecotourism.

Earlier this year, the Australian Institute for Marine Studies found that reef sharks in Palau contribute nearly US$18 million annually to the national economy through diving and associated tourism activities. A similar analysis in French Polynesia found that an individual lemon shark has a lifetime value of more than US$300,000, a significantly higher figure than if it had been caught for its fins. “A living shark is worth far more than a dead shark,” said Rand.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vote for David Shiffman to Win the 2011 Blogging Scholarship

Guest Blog
by David Shiffman

There are still a few days left to vote for me to win the 2011 blogging scholarship, which provides $10,000 towards research and education expenses to the winner! If I win, some of the money will be used to support shark conservation research at my lab. It will help support our citizen science program, which has brought over 1,000 high school students and teachers out into the field to learn about sharks and participate in an active research program. It will help support my dissertation work, which focuses on the ecological importance of sharks to coral reefs. It will also be used to adopt a satellite tagged shark in the name of you, the readers of Southern Fried Science. You’ll get to name it (through a contest), and I’ll post regular updates about where our shark is and what it’s likely to be encountering.

Remember, you can vote once per day until noon Pacific time on November 30th. For those of you who only know me as WhySharksMatter, my real name (as it’s entered on the voting page) is David Shiffman.

The voting page is here. Please vote for me to win $10,000 for shark conservation, and please share the voting page with your friends, colleagues, and fellow ocean lovers! You can also write a comment on the voting page explaining why you think sharks are important. Thanks for your continued support, everyone!

Act Now to Save Whale Sharks!

The world’s largest fish is threatened from tuna fishing boats in the western and central Pacific Ocean. Massive purse seine vessels with nets stretching up to a mile and extending 1,000 feet below the surface, cinch fish with a drawstring mechanism that prevents escape. These vessels frequently set their gear around whale sharks to scoop up the tuna that congregate underneath the larger fish.

More than 10 percent of the whale sharks netted this way are killed, and the fate of those released is unknown. The United States operates one of the biggest purse seine fleets for tuna in the region and should lead efforts to protect this impressive species.


Growing up to 60 feet and living 60 years or more, these gentle giants are filter feeders, eating microscopic prey and small fish. Although whale sharks have been classified as vulnerable to extinction, they are still being caught and killed, and their numbers are declining.

Countries that fish for tuna in the western and central Pacific will soon have the opportunity to protect whale sharks for good. At the upcoming annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), governments will consider an important measure to stop setting purse seine nets around these fish along with other shark conservation measures.

Take action! Urge the U.S. delegation to the WCPFC to support measures that prohibit intentional fishing around whale sharks and protect this gentle giant of the sea.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

We Ni Yava: The Sharkman Dives with Sharks

Our Champion for the shark conservation awareness campaign in Fiji is Manoa "The Sharkman" Rasagitale. During the week, Manoa is an environmental advocate with the Coral Reef Alliance, but on the weekends Monoa stars in his own reality television program, We Ni Yava.

We Ni Yava is Fijian for "footsteps," and every Monday night viewers on MaiTV follow him as he goes on an adventure somewhere around the country.  In this episode, Manoa goes diving with the bull sharks in Beqa Lagoon with AquaTrek Fiji.

The Sharkman actually filmed two episodes in Beqa Lagoon. The first episode was learning to dive. The second episode was diving with sharks.

Here are the links:

Learning to Dive, Part 1
Learning to Dive, Part 2
Learning to Dive, Part 3

Diving with Sharks, Part 1
Diving with Sharks, Part 2
Diving with Sharks, Part 3

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Fiji Times: Fiji's Endangered Sharks Top Fin Trade

SHARKS that lure tourists back to our waters in a multi-million-dollar industry are seeing red.

Ten species of sharks highlighted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN) on its Red List, which gauges the level of threat against endangered wildlife species, have been identified as top-of-the-range in Fiji's fin trade.

And among the ICUN's "near threatened" and "vulnerable" red-listed sharks are the country's main attractions in shark-related tourism activities.

A study on the shark fin trade in Suva conducted by Dr Demian Chapman, the assistant director of science at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, Stony Creek University in New York, shows that a large amount of sharks killed for their fins are those that frequent dive spots which tourists visit for shark encounters.

The alarming statistics collated after his assessment with officials of the Fisheries Department in March this year proved their theory that sharks from Fiji waters are being killed and traded in large volumes to China, where it is a delicacy among the growing population of the rich.

His assessment based on visits to two shark dealers in Suva March 29-30 and on field reports from shark experts who did other researches on the global decline of these ancient predators also showed that locals are more involved in the trade than previously thought.

It revealed that offshore species, sharks that live in deeper water and are targeted as bycatch in tuna fisheries, are the most killed. These include the silky shark, oceanic whitetip shark and blue sharks.

"Visits to two fin traders in Suva indicate that a large volume of shark fins are being exported from Fiji, at least on the order of tens of thousands of fins per month," Dr Chapman said in his report.

"Most of the fins I observed came from the three species. These are all epipelagic, offshore species that are being captured by longliners."

Dr Chapman, who is among the first to successfully trace scalloped hammerhead shark fins from the burgeoning Hong Kong market all the way back to the sharks' geographic origin using groundbreaking DNA research, said the traders in Suva confirmed that most of the offshore sharks had their fins cut and their bodies left to sink to the bottom where they suffered agonising deaths.

"I also observed a number of fins from inshore species. According to traders, these come from the coast of Fiji and are collected by local people who are paid by the dealers for shark fins and sea cucumbers," he said.

"I estimated the total number of fins present at each dealer by counting the number of fins visible in digital photographs taken onsite. Since most sharks produce four marketable fins (dorsal, two pectoral and lower caudal), I divided the estimated total number of fins by a factor of four to estimate the total number of individual sharks killed. One dealer had approximately 1000 fins drying, which represents at least 250 sharks killed.

"The dealer also had four large freezers full of frozen fins that were impossible to count. The other dealer had three very large piles of dried fins that I estimate contained a total of 10,000-12,000 fins and represented 2500-4000 dead sharks. The dealer indicated that they were exporting this volume on a monthly basis from Nadi International Airport to Hong Kong."

After returning to the US, Dr Chapman's digital images were verified by researchers at the Stony Creek University and 10 shark species were confirmed among these fins.

This accounted for 28.5 per cent of species found along the coast around Fiji.

"They include offshore and inshore reef species, confirming reports that dealers are using sharks captured along the Fijian coast. One species listed as endangered and four listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) were found, indicating that species that are of conservation concern occur in the trade. The presence of three species that are important for dive tourism was also confirmed, highlighting conflicting use of these species in Fiji."

Ratu Manoa Rasigatale, who is spearheading an awareness campaign for the Coral Reef Alliance and Pew Environment Group to turn Fiji's waters into a shark sanctuary, said the statistics are of concern.

"It is sad to note from Dr Chapman's assessmant that locals are heavily involved in the killing of reef sharks," said Ratu Manoa, dubbed the Sharkman for his efforts to spread the gospel of shark conservation to all levels of the community in Fiji.

"We must do all we can to stop this trade and make sure that these sharks are not driven to extinction.

"Without the sharks, our reefs will die."

Fiji sharks on the ICUN's Red List are the scalloped hammerhead shark (endangered), oceanic whitetip shark (vulnerable), bigeye threasher shark (vulnerable), smooth hammerhead (vulnerable), sicklefin lemon (vulnerable), silky sharks (near threatened), blue sharks (near threatened), shortfin mako (near threatened), tiger shark (near threatened) and blacktip reef sharks (near threatened).

Written by Ilaitia Turagabeci and published in The Fiji Times on Monday, November 7, 2011.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vulnerable Shark Fact Sheets

The Pew Environment Group has developed fact sheets on silky, porbeagle, and shortfin mako sharks, species assessed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The information on these important species is being released ahead of next week's meeting of The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Istanbul, Turkey.
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