Thursday, June 28, 2012

Shark conservation under consultation in Cook Islands

Shelly Clark (center) with Steve Lyon (left) and Jess Cramp (right)
A two-day meeting was held this week by the Ministry of Marine Resources to discuss an updated national plan of action for sharks.

Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) secretary Ben Ponia organised the consultation to talk about the problem of shark over-fishing and the possibility of creating a shark sanctuary in the Cooks.

Ponia flew in Dr Shelley Clarke from Japan, a recognised expert in the shark fin trade and Pacific shark fisheries, to speak on global and regional shark issues.

Clarke gave information on global and regional shark data, Cook Islands-specific information such as shark catches in the area, and science and policy suggestions.

The meeting was attended by 15 people, including Cook Islands national heritage trust director Gerald McCormack, Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) programme manager Jacqui Evans, a representative from the aronga mana (traditional leaders), and Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative (PICI) founder Stephen Lyon.

PICI has been advocating for the creation of a Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary since October of last year, but the meeting was called without any input from them.

PICI programme co-ordinator Jess Cramp said they were to be sent a copy of the presentation before the meeting but it never eventuated, so they were ”interested“ in what was going to be discussed.

Both Cramp and Lyon were vocal in their advocacy for zero retention of sharks.

Lyon asked where Clarke thought the Cook Islands stood on a global scale of shark conservation, to which she replied Cook Islands is quite progressive and in the ”leading pack“ in the region’s fisheries management.

While she was presenting Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) data, Clarke says the Cook Islands are free to set its own regulations.

Clarke estimates that 26 to 73 million sharks are killed each year around the world. This number threatens the sustainability of shark populations.

At least 80 species of sharks and rays are found within the Pacific Islands region. Around half of these species are considered to be highly migratory, so fishing impacts upon them must be internationally managed.

Due to their low productivity and long life span, these species are vulnerable to overexploitation.

Basking, oceanic white tip*, whale and great white sharks are particularly vulnerable to trade, and are on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) danger list.

Shark finning is extremely topical – in Parliament this week Opposition leader Wilkie Rasmussen questioned marine resources minister Teina Bishop over whether vessels licensed under the exploratory programme are finning sharks illegally. Bishop replied that once he has evidence of this to support the claims, he will terminate the licences.

On Friday, MMR presented the proposed elements of the updated version of the National Plan of Action for Sharks and invited further discussion.

Published in Cook Islands News on June 16, 2012.  Follow along with the campaign to create a Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary at Polynesia Shark Defenders.  And here are more articles from the Cook Islands News:
Luen Thai partnering with local company
Licenses restrict by-catch: Bishop
Are we promoting shark fishing?
We should protect all sharks
Shark finning alleged   
*Note: Oceanic whitetip sharks are note listed by CITES.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Shark Defenders Quiz Answers

Did you take the Shark Defenders Conservation Quiz?  Here are the answers:
1. E
2. B
3. C
4. C
5. D
In our 10 Things You Can Do To Protect Sharks, our very first item is to educate yourself about the global situation of sharks.  Getting all five questions here correct should have been difficult, but if you did it, you are on your way to becoming a true Shark Defender.  Here are explanations for each of the answers:
1. What is the best definition of ‘shark finning?’
a. Killing a shark
b. Killing a shark for its fins
c. Fishing for sharks
d. Cutting off a shark’s fins at sea
e. Cutting off a shark’s fins and discarding the body in the ocean
Wikipedia has the best definition of ‘shark finning’ on the Internet.  Shark finning is defined as the cutting off of a shark's fin and discarding the body at sea.  Finning is more an issue of animal cruelty and welfare than of conservation, as banning the practice of finning does not mandate catch limits or the number of sharks killed for their fins, or rather, the number of sharks allowed to stay alive in our oceans.
2. How many sharks are killed each year?
a. Less than 26 million
b. On average 38 million
c. More than 73 million
d. 100 million+
e. 200 million
The only peer-reviewed scientific study to estimate the number of sharks killed each year is Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets by Shelley Clarke, published in Ecology Letters in 2006. Using trade data from several years in the 1990s, she estimated that between 26-73 million sharks are killed each year, with a mean of 38 million.  Conservation organizations will simplify this number by saying something like "up to 73 million" or "as many as 73 million" sharks are killed each year.  More than 73 million is wrong, as are 100 and 200 million.  This number will be updated in the near future, however, as Shark Defenders knows of two independent studies currently underway that are trying to estimate the number of sharks killed each year.  The take home message, of course, is that tens of millions of sharks are dying each year and scientists think this is too many.
3. The Shark Conservation Act in the United States does which of the following:
a. Bans the sale, trade, and possession of shark fin
b. Makes it illegal to kill sharks for their fins
c. Requires that sharks be brought to port with their fins naturally attached
d. Mandates that certain endangered shark species be released alive
e. Sets catch limits for the number of sharks fishermen can catch
The Shark Conservation Act changed the finning rule of the United States from the 5% rule to fins naturally attached.  Under the 5% rule, fins could be removed from sharks at sea as long as the shark bodies were brought to port (the heads and intestines were usually cut off and thrown overboard).  At the port, the weight of the fins had to be no less than 5% of weight of the shark bodies, or else the fishermen were in violation of the law.  For a number of reasons, this management scheme opened up a number of loopholes.  Fins naturally attached attempts to close those loopholes by requiring that sharks must be landed in port whole, with their fins naturally attached to their bodies.  The Pew Environment Group explains the US Shark Conservation Act in this Youtube video.
4. The shark finning ban being considered by the European Union would:
a. Ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark fin
b. Make it illegal to kill sharks for their fins
c. Require that sharks be brought to port with their fins naturally attached
d. Mandate that certain endangered shark species be released alive
e. Set catch limits for the number of sharks fishermen can catch
The European Union currently uses the 5% rule and is considering switching to fins naturally attached, similar to what the United States, Chile, and Venezuela have done in the last two years.  The Shark Alliance explains the shark protections being considered by the EU in this video.
5. The shark sanctuaries in Palau, The Bahamas, and Honduras:
a. Ban shark finning
b. Protect only endangered species of shark
c. Ban all commercial fishing
d. Ban all commercial shark fishing
Shark Sanctuaries ban the commercial fishing of all shark species in a nation's entire exclusive economic zone.  Some countries have created smaller reserves for shark species, such as Los Roques in Venezuela, but these are not the all encompassing protections of a full shark sanctuary.  Discovery News reports on the 2011 creation of shark sanctuaries in Honduras and The Bahamas and how they protect sharks.

Again, as we like to say, the shark conservation movement requires educated, dedicated individuals to create informed campaigns to develop policy to protect sharks.  We hope that you take the time to learn about the different mechanisms available because it will help you better advocate for the protection of sharks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How is the sale of shark fins as ‘incidental catch’ similar to cattle grazing on common grounds?

Guest Blog
by Dr. Robin Taylor

The debate between opposing parties to the suggestion that Fiji should have a total ban on the catch and sale of sharks (or just parts of sharks such as their fins), took on a different angle whereby the fishing industry consortium (the minority but powerful lobby group in the room) argued that they were not interested in catching sharks and totally accepted that sharks needed to be protected. In other words the fishing consortium seemed to be ‘on side’, consultative and reasonable to the larger group of stakeholders who were arguing for a total ban on shark fishing and/or the sale of any shark products. The fishing lobby’s suggestion was for Fiji to set up sanctuaries particularly around the coastal areas throughout Fiji waters. Their argument was that the majority of the species were found around coasts and coral reefs associated with the coasts, and that they were not concerned with catching sharks anyway (which were, according to them, few) and that they released any live sharks that they accidentally caught on their long lines.

Why did and should the conservation group be so adamantly against this apparently reasonable gesture by the fishing lobby group? The answer lies in that it creates loopholes and loopholes are always exploited by people to their own gains. Is this true however? Psychologists, economists, mathematicians and biologists have answered this question and it started with an unusual consideration of owners of cattle who wanted to graze their livestock on common land.

Garrett Hardin revived a report that was first written up in 1833 by an amateur mathematician who outlined a scenario which has subsequently been titled the “Tragedy of the Commons”. A ‘Common’ was a common piece of ground used for agricultural or pastoral activities. Rather than being owned by someone or a group (such as a family), the Common was for everyone to use. A Common was still regulated because it was realised that if everyone wantonly used up the resources of the Common, then it would cease to be of any value. An agreement between all the cattle owners could prevent this problem if everyone agrees to only have a set number of cattle (say five each). Of course not every cow is the same so some cows might eat a bit more than another cow. For this reason the actual number of cows per grazer should be slightly less than the maximum permitted to account for this discrepancy – to act as a buffer as it were. If everyone was to have more than this (say six), the results would be that the buffer would be used up and the Common would be overgrazed – the result would be overgrazing and everyone loses. Such Commons really do exist and for the many, the system works well.

However, on some Commons people might have a tendency to ‘sneak’ a sixth cattle onto the Common. If one or two cattle owners do this, it probably won’t affect the Common too much because of the built in buffer. They get ‘free’ grazing for an additional head of cattle. However, sharp sighted peers would think “well why should I ‘lose out’ to others? - I’ll sneak a sixth cattle onto the common too!”. Of course what happens in the end is that everyone ends up putting more than their allocated five cattle per owner, and the result is that the buffer is exceeded the Common would be overgrazed and then no cattle can use the Common at all – everyone loses medium to long term including the ‘cheats’. This is the ‘tragedy’ of the situation. The ‘buffer’ is a loophole that can be exploited.

This has been experimentally researched in a ‘game’ that can be played called the ‘Prisoners Dilemma’. The science behind this is both psychology and mathematics in a discipline called ‘Game Theory’. If you’ve seen the film ‘Beautiful Mind’ with Russell Crowe as the mathematical genius John Nash, then this is essentially ‘Game Theory’. Research participants ‘play’ a theoretical game in pairs. The rules of the game are that: they may gain a short term individually large reward if they ‘cheat’ on their playing partner; they lose if they are cheated on (or they don’t gain as much); or they and their partner gain a small amount but over the medium to long term this adds up to be far larger overall; and finally they both lose a far larger amount if both partners try to cheat on each other. These are not unlike the conditions described in the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’.

So what actually happens in this research? It depends on a number of factors, such as the size of a short term reward, the apparent loss if others ‘cheat’ the system (related to the size of the short term reward), as well as the size of penalty to both parties if they both try to cheat on each other, and the size of the mutual gain to work cooperatively as well as the time frame in which the mutually cooperative work is rewarded. It should be mentioned that many variations to this game have been played including the more realistic versions where there are more than two players and where the game can be played more than once, i.e. many fishing boats, or more than one fishing fleet and each time the fishing boat goes out, it is the equivalent of playing a game.

The proposal to have a set of shark sanctuaries in Fiji waters is almost impossible to police (when are you actually ‘in’ the shark sanctuary and when are you ‘out’?) with today’s technologies and limited government resources. The current system is also open to abuse in terms of defining when a shark is currently ‘dead’ on the line without qualified independent observers on board the fishing fleets. The proposal to set up a set of partial sanctuaries for sharks in Fiji waters, and the allowance of accidental or ‘by-catch’ sharks by fishermen outside of these sanctuaries, is a situation that is a classic ‘Prisoners Dilemma’ game.

1. The pressure to ‘cheat’ is enormous with the current value of a shark fin being about six times the price per kilogram of tuna.

2. The penalty of not cheating is relatively large when some fishing fleets are going out to fish and coming back with a negligible catch. They still have to pay wages, and fleet operating costs. Those costs can be recouped (even partially) if ‘by-catch’ sharks (actually their fins) are sold.

3. The penalty for over fishing of sharks because almost everyone ‘cheats’, is the collapse of the eco-system including the tuna populations resulting in the collapse of any associated tuna industry.

4. The time frame for such a penalty is counted in years, not days, weeks or even months. If the short term windfall from cheating is measured in years, this is enough for individuals (fleet operator owners) to get very rich before the whole system collapses.

The result will be that fishermen will definitely cheat. Not all, but as time goes on, more and more will fisherman will cheat until the eco-system collapses. The cheating will be something along the lines of a very loose interpretation of when a fishing boat, or even a fishing line is within the sanctuary waters; and a very liberal interpretation of when a shark is considered ‘dead’ on the line. Indeed, those that don’t ‘cheat’ will go out of business before the whole industry collapses, and it’s always hard to maintain ethics when food is not coming onto the table!

Could this really happen, as surely if we know the science of the dangers of overfishing the whole industry would not go down this route? Sadly, we have more than enough recent and ongoing examples of fishing industries that have or continue to be overfished and the industry has is in imminent danger of collapsing. So the short answer is yes it can definitely still happen. The most spectacular is probably the North west Atlantic cod by North American fleets and the similar case in the North east Atlantic particularly Scandinavia, Britain and Iceland. The issue therefore is not that the industry is unaware of the problem. The issue is that whilst there is an appreciable gain to be made out of ‘cheating’ before the industry collapses, the temptation and the psychological pressure will overcome any scientific wisdom or logic. This is what the Prisoners Dilemma research has demonstrated and results in yet another ‘Tragedy of the Commons’.

How can this be reversed? After all there are successful ‘Commons’ in real life that do not always end in a tragedy. Again the research is clear on this, the ‘rules’ of the game must be played with different loses and gains for either ‘cheating’ or ‘cooperating’. The potential short term gains might be minimised (unfortunately it is not easy for a country like Fiji to dictate the market price of shark fins); the penalty for ‘cheating’ must be far larger than the short term ‘gain’; the penalty for cheating must be almost immediate (days or weeks, not months or years); the conditions under which behaviour is defined as ‘cheating’ or ‘cooperating’ must be immediately apparent.

• The easiest way to make cheating and cooperating apparent is to have a total ban on all shark fishing throughout all of the Fiji’s waters. A total ban is the only solution that is possible without significant advances in the implementation of reliable and cheap technology that can instantly and always identify when a boat or associated fishing line is in a ‘mini’ defined sanctuary or not within Fiji’s waters.
• Accidental by-catch can be minimised by the use of appropriate materials (‘shark friendly’ hooks) and fishing behaviour (laying out of fishing lines and nets at times when sharks do not hunt). • No shark product to be sold even if the shark is actually dead (some by-catch is inevitable) so there is no temptation to ‘liberally’ interpret when a shark is dead on the line (or not).
• Transgressions of these measures when detected, are always punished as a penalty for cheating.
• Penalties are so severe that it overrides any short term gains by fishing boats or fishing fleets that think they can get away with the ‘cheat’ and associated short term gain.
• Penalties are instantly applied and to everyone, regardless of size, relationship with the government, or nationality.

Critics of such policies might argue that this would penalise ‘honest’ fishing fleets that try to fish responsibly as shark by-catch is inevitable. The answer is that it would not for the following reasons. Firstly the penalty is not applied for catching a shark (accidentally) but for keeping shark products (such as the fins) for sale. Secondly the stated by-catch of sharks by the long line fishing consortium is small (‘We are not interested in catching sharks as tuna is our main industry’) so any loss of income from the sale of accidental by-catch is also correspondingly small. Finally, if sharks are not their intended catch, then using fishing equipment and practices that minimises the shark by-catch actually is better and more effective for the fishing industry.

In summary, whilst the intention of the fishing industry lobby to oppose a total shark sanctuary throughout Fiji’s waters but instead suggest localised sanctuaries, seems reasonable, the well established scientific evidence is that this will not work. The research that has demonstrated this is in the study of a game called the ‘Prisoners Dilemma’. Overfishing in other industries around the world show that this research is valid in the ‘real world’ even when the science and consequences of overfishing is known by all stakeholders. The current solution to avoid a Tragedy of the Commons’ where both the eco-system and consequently the fishing industry collapses, is a total ban on all fishing of sharks and any sale of shark products regardless of whether they are accidentally fished or not.

Further Reading
Axelrod, R. (1984) The evolution of cooperation, Basic Books, New York.
Hardin, G. (1968) The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162, 1243-1248.
Kollock, P. (1998) Social dilemmas: The anatomy of cooperation. Annual Review of Sociology. 24, 183-214.

Dr. Robin Taylor obtained a BSc in zoology from Dundee University and then a PhD in psychology from Edinburgh university. He lives and works in the Fiji Islands with his wife, two daughters, four dogs and two cats.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Venezuela Ends Shark Finning, Creates Protected Area

Venezuela set forth a series of measures this week to protect sharks within its waters. Most significantly, commercial shark fishing is now prohibited throughout the 3,730 square kilometers (1,440 square miles) of the Caribbean Sea that make up the popular Los Roques and Las Aves archipelagos, whose pristine beaches and coral reefs make it a diving and fishing attraction.

Scientists have identified Los Roques, located about 128 kilometers (80 miles) off the Venezuelan coast, as an important breeding ground and nursery for populations of several species of sharks, including the lemon shark and the Caribbean reef shark.

“Our research has found that newborn sharks in the mangroves and cays of Los Roques migrate throughout the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean,” said Rafael Tavares, an expert with Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agrícolas (INIA), Venezuela, who has researched sharks in the region for nearly 20 years. “These new, far-reaching protections would not be possible without the support of the Los Roques community, especially the local fishermen.”

The new regulation also prohibits the practice of shark finning (cutting off the fins and dumping the body overboard at sea) and mandates that all of these animals caught in Venezuelan waters must be brought to port with their fins naturally attached.

“Venezuela’s decision to prohibit shark finning means that it now joins the rest of the countries of South America, North America and Central America rest of the Americas in banning this wasteful practice,” said Jill Hepp, manager of global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group. “Combined with the breeding ground safe haven in Los Roques and Las Aves, this is the latest step in the growing global movement to save these magnificent animals.”

Sharks are highly susceptible to overfishing because of biological characteristics such as long life, low birthrate, and few offspring. It is estimated that up to 73 million are killed annually for their fins, primarily due to increased demand for shark fin soup.

Monday, June 18, 2012

We Are the Apex Predators

Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

For more than one hundred years, we’ve been aware of the importance of apex predators – animals without natural predators – to the order of the world around us. When it comes to the food chain, they are tops. On land, apex predators include species such as lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). In the ocean, the ultimate predators are sharks.

Aldo Leopold, one of the founders of the environmental movement in the United States, linked the existence of predators and prey by depicting the relationship between wolves, erosion, and deforestation. In an essay called “Thinking Like a Mountain,” Leopold recalls how in his youth, the conventional thinking was that fewer wolves meant more deer. However, without wolves, there was nothing left to keep the deer populations in check. The populations of deer exploded and overgrazed bark and leaves growing on trees, killing the trees. When the trees died, there was nothing to hold the soil in place, and so the mountain eroded into the rivers.

As with the wolves, we are witnessing a similar effect in the oceans, as shark populations decline. Sharks may reign in the ocean, but they are not the top predators on the planet; humans are. Each year up to 73 million sharks are caught and killed for their fins, which are used as the namesake ingredient in shark fin soup. Humans also use their livers for oil, their skins for leather, and their teeth for jewelry and souvenirs. Sharks are also caught as bycatch (non-targeted catch), and frequently die when caught in nets or on lines, or after they are thrown back into the water. Through these largely unrestricted fisheries, many shark species have become threatened with extinction. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has determined that a third of all shark species are threatened or near threatened with extinction. And while fish populations can rebound with proper management, extinction is forever.

A case-in-point example: the Pew Environment Group and Jim Toomey, creator of Sherman’s Lagoon, illustrate the apex predator-prey relationship in a new Youtube video posted last week for World Ocean’s Day. Simply put, in the ocean, there are small fish, big fish, and apex predators. Apex predators, such as sharks, eat the big fish, which in turn eat the small fish. Small fish feed upon algae. When apex predators are taken out of that equation, the big fish overwhelm the small fish. With the small fish gone, there is nothing to keep the algae in check. Algae then overtake corals, killing coral reefs. So, you see, sharks are key to keeping our oceans alive and well.

Sitting at the very top of the food chain, you and I have a role to play in ensuring that balance is maintained in our marine ecosystems. Right now, we are less than a year out from the 16th meeting of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, during which delegates from 175 nations will vote to create (or to not create) conservation measures for a number of shark species. Obviously, this offers an important opportunity to institute broad, sweeping policies to protect sharks and ecosystems, and to ensure that solid management plans are in place for every member party.

On a more localized level, we have seen nations, states, territories, and even a region jump on board with creating shark sanctuaries. We’ve discussed on the Shark Defenders blog before how sanctuaries are the gold standard of shark conservation measures, and this is an important point. Prohibiting commercial shark fishing and catch in protected areas – and, in the instance of recent sanctuaries, the possession, sale, and trade of shark products – is like the abstinence message of the sea: it’s the only 100% fail-safe method of preventing unwanted species decline and ecosystem destruction.

Creating sanctuaries, ending commercial overfishing, establishing science-based fisheries management plans: These are the ways in which humans can work to protect sharks. It is our onus to do what we can, as the “ultimate” apex predators, to keep our oceans healthy. This is the first and potentially the biggest step that we can all pitch in and take.

Alyssa Sablan is Shark Defender's student intern.

Pew to Host Screening of Film ‘Sanctuary: Last Stand for Sharks’

On Friday, June 22, and Saturday, June 23, the Pew Environment Group will host public screenings of “Sanctuary: The Last Stand for Sharks,” a new documentary that portrays the underwater world of sharks and the global threats they face.

This hour long film, directed and produced by John Weller and Shawn Heinrichs, highlights the important steps needed to protect sharks in Federated States of Micronesia waters and the growing movement in the Pacific to prevent extinction and save these threatened species. The film also portrays the most recent protections and depicts the global threats faced by sharks.

Public screening of the film “Sanctuary: The Last Stand for Sharks in Micronesia”
Watch the Trailer

Friday, June 22, Hopwood Junior High School, Saipan, 7 p.m.
Saturday, June 23, American Memorial National Park, Saipan, 7 p.m.

·         John Weller, director/producer of “Sanctuary: Last Stand for Sharks”
·         Liz Karan, Global Shark Conservation Campaign, Pew Environment Group
·         Angelo Villagomez, Global Shark Conservation Campaign, Pew Environment Group

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An Open Letter to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

As professional marine scientists who have personally witnessed and documented the dramatic declines of shark populations around the world, we would like to express our concern about the recent misinformation perpetuated in the media, both Asian and international, asserting that the shark fin trade is sustainable.

The reality is that this vast trade is largely unmanaged and unmonitored, and that the shark fin industry in Asia plays little to no role in fisheries management in the countries that are fishing sharks. The slow growth and reproductive rates of sharks makes them extremely susceptible to overexploitation.

Since only a small fraction of shark-fishing nations have any type of shark management plan in place, the assertion that the fin trade is sustainable is not based in fact.

Despite recent claims to the contrary by the Hong Kong-based Sustainable Marine Resources Committee of the Marine Products Association (MPA), there is a wealth of scientific evidence that populations of many shark species are in decline, with the shark fin trade being an important driver. There is a solid scientific consensus that many sharks and indeed other cartilaginous fishes, such as skates and rays, are in severe trouble, and there is emerging evidence that this could be causing wider disruptions in ocean ecosystems.

We the undersigned believe, in the interests of both the global marine environment and the public that depends on healthy ocean ecosystems, that decision makers should be apprised of the full facts of the shark fin issue, most specifically that:

- The shark fin trade, as it currently stands, is NOT sustainable. Peer-reviewed scientific research has shown that the fins of tens of millions of sharks passed through the shark fin trade in 2000. Since then there has been no accurate estimation of the trade volume and corresponding number of sharks killed, making it impossible for the industry to state that the trade is sustainable.

Declines in shark populations have been reported from many locations worldwide, and many areas like the Caribbean, for example, are heavily impacted. Individual populations, such as oceanic whitetip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and hammerheads in the Mediterranean, have experienced severe declines. These statistics are not mere speculation but are backed up by published analyses in academic journals.

- Shark fins are by far the most valuable part of the shark, which encourages many fisheries to target them or retain them even when they are caught incidentally, rather than releasing them alive. The shark fin trade should therefore be viewed as a major driver of global shark fishing activities, which are often unmanaged and conducted in an unsustainable manner.

- The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) does not adequately protect endangered shark species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 82 species of sharks on its Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Yet, CITES regulates trade of just three of these threatened shark species.

Despite meeting the scientific criteria for listing, numerous shark species have been denied CITES protection because politics prevented them from receiving the two-thirds of the votes necessary for a CITES listing. A larger number of species are considered threatened and are therefore prohibited in particular countries or by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.

CITES tends to lag behind domestic and regional management bodies because of the two-thirds majority requirement and should not therefore be used as the benchmark for whether a species is under threat.

In short, the overwhelming body of scientific data supports the urgent need to focus on adequate conservation and management strategies rather than maintaining unsustainable levels of fishing.

Given that sharks play an important role in maintaining the delicate balance of the world's marine ecosystems, and that many species of sharks are now threatened or near threatened with extinction, there is a rare opportunity to make a significant impact on an issue of global importance by helping to regulate the burgeoning international trade in shark fins.

Undersigned by the following:

Dr Gregor Cailllet; Director Emeritus, Pacific Shark Research Centre; Professor Emeritus, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, US

Dr Jeffrey C Carrier, PhD; Professor Emeritus of Biology - Albion College; American Elasmobranch Society - Past-President; Adjunct Research Scientist - Mote Marine Laboratory, US

Dr Demian D F Chapman; Assistant Professor, School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Stony Brook University, US

Dr William Cheung; Assistant Professor, Fisheries Centre, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Dr Philippe Cury; IRD Senior Scientist; Director Centre de Recherche Halieutique Mediterraneenne et Tropicale Sete, France

Dr Toby S Daly-Engel; Assistant Professor of Marine Biology; University of West Florida, US

Dr Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, PhD; President, Tethys Research Institute, Milano, Italy

Dr Michael L Domeier; President Marine Conservation Science Institute, US

Dr E Esat Atikkan, PhD; Adj Prof, Biology, Adj Prof, Physical Education, Montgomery College, US

Dr Kevin Feldheim, PhD; A Watson Armour III Manager of the Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution; Field Museum of Natural History, USA

Dr Francesco Ferretti, PhD; Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, US

Dr Andrew B Gill; Senior Lecturer, Environmental Science and Technology Department, Cranfield University, UK

Dr Eileen D Grogan, PhD; Professor of Biology; Research Associate: Carnegie Museum The Academy of Natural Sciences, US

Dr Samuel H Gruber; Director, Bimini Biological Field Station, South Bimini, Bahamas; Founder IUCN Shark Specialist Group; Founder American Elasmobranch Society; Professor Emeritus University of Miami, US

Dr George J Guillen, PhD; Executive Director and Associate Professor Environmental Science and Biology, Environmental Institute of Houston, University of Houston, US

Dr Richard L Haedrich; Professor emeritus, Memorial University, St John's, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada

Dr Neil Hammerschlag; Research Assistant Professor, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy; Director, R J Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, University of Miami, US

Dr Michael Heithaus; Director, School of Environment, Arts and Society, Florida International University, US

Dr Mauricio Hoyos Padilla; Pelagios-Kakunja A C La Paz, BCS, Mexico

Dr Robert Hueter; Director, Center for Shark Research; Associate Vice President for Research, Directorate of Marine Biology and Conservation, Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida, US

Dr Charlie Huveneers; Lecturer and Research Scientist, Flinders University/SARDI - Aquatic Sciences Adelaide, Australia

Dr Salvador Jorgensen; Research scientist; Chief Scientist, White Shark Research Initiative, Monterey Bay Aquarium, US

Dr Stephen M Kajiura; Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, US

Dr Steven Kessel; Post-Doctoral Fellow, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Vivian Lam; IUCN Shark Specialist Group, US

Dr Agnes Le Port; Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences The University of Auckland, New Zealand

Dr Richard Lund; Research Associate, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

Dr John W Mandelman; Research Scientist, John H Prescott Marine Laboratory, New England Aquarium, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Dr Mikki McComb-Kobza; Postdoctoral Researcher, Ocean Exploration and Deep-Sea Research, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, US

Dr John E McCosker; Chair of Aquatic Biology, California Academy of Sciences, US

Dr Henry F Mollet; Research Affiliate MLML, R&D Volunteer Husbandry Division, Monterey Bay Aquarium, US

Dr Elliott A Norse; President, Marine Conservation Institute, 2122 112th Avenue NE, US

Dr Jill A Olin; Post-Doctoral Fellow, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Dr Daniel Pauly, Professor of Fisheries, Fisheries Centre, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Prof Ellen K Pikitch, PhD; Executive Director, Institute for Ocean Conservation, Science School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, US

Dr Yvonne Sadovy; Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Dr Carl Safina; Blue Ocean Institute, US

Dr Bernard Seret; Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement (IRD), Museum national d'Histoire naturelle, Departement Systematique et Evolution, France

Dr John Stevens; Research Fellow, CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Dr Tracey Sutton; Department of Fisheries Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William & Mary, US

Dr Boris Worm; Associate Professor, Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Canada

Friday, June 8, 2012

ACTION ALERT: Save a Shark on World Oceans Day

Guest Blog
By Kelly Thomas Brown

Bula and happy World Oceans Day from Fiji!  Our campaign to create Melanesia's first shark sanctuary is moving forward. The government is close to making a decision on shark protections for all of Fiji. However, the tuna industry is pressuring government to carve out loopholes that would allow them to continue fishing at current unsustainable levels and we need YOU to add your voice to the chorus supporting a shark sanctuary with full protections. At a public hearing last month, over 100 people showed up to testify in support of full protections, but it was not enough. Please help us show government we support their efforts to protect sharks.

Here are 5 things you can do to help right now:

1. Participate in the Fiji Times World Oceans Day Shark Art Contest.  Print the graphic above and then draw and colour your favourite shark.  Drop off your artwork at the Fiji Times in Suva, or mail to: CORAL Fiji office; 8 Denison Road; Suva, Fiji Islands.  You can also photograph or scan your artwork and post it to Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.  Make sure you tag it with @SharkDefenders and #FinSanity.  Prizes are only available for students living in Fiji, but no matter where in the world you live, we want to see your artwork!

2. Write a short letter to the Fiji Times and Fiji Sun explaining why you support shark protections.  Say you want to see full protections with no loopholes.  If you don't live in Fiji, say that you can't wait to come visit our sharks. Email your letter to: and

3. Write a letter to the Fiji Director of Fisheries Sanaila Naqali thanking him for standing up for sharks, and encouraging full protections for Fiji's sharks including a ban on the commercial fishing, sale, trade, possession, and transshipment of shark and shark products, and retention of sharks caught as incidental bycatch. Mail your letter to: Director Sanaila Naqali; PO BOX 2218; Government Buildings; Suva, Fiji Islands.

4. Post our public service announcements to your Facebook wall. PSA #1 and PSA #2 talk about the importance of sharks, while PSA #3 (starring shark champion Senator Tony DeBrum from the Marshall Islands) talks about the importance of banning bycatch and transshipment.

5. Update your Facebook and Twitter status to I love Fiji Sharks #FijiMe #Finsanity Please Like, Share, and ReTweet the message every time you see it.

Kelly Thomas Brown is a Masters candidate at the University of South Pacific and is the Manager of Fiji Shark Defenders.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pinning Shark Defenders

Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

Hafa adai!

My name is Alyssa Sablan, and I’m so excited to have the chance to blog for Shark Defenders, moreover to help with some of their social media and online outreach. I really love social media (but obviously not as much as I love sharks).

As a Saipan native (the largest island within the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), I’ve grown up around the ocean and around sharks. I earned my PADI open water dive certification and have taken every chance I’ve had since then to go diving (I was lucky enough to go diving with Caribbean reef sharks during a trip to The Bahamas last year). Sharks have always played an important role in my life. However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed how shark populations have declined. Sharks used to be everywhere; now during a dive, I’m lucky if I see one.  It makes me sad, but motivated because I believe I can make a difference.

This is why I’m proud to be interning for Shark Defenders. This is giving me a chance to carry on supporting sharks. I loved having the chance to participate in Micronesia Shark Defenders, and I’m so proud of my Commonwealth for passing a bill that banned the sale, possession, and trade of shark fins. I’m looking forward to putting my knowledge of technology and shark conservation to work! It’s important to prevent sharks from going extinct.

Follow Shark Defenders on Pinterest
Call it a generational thing, but I see the value in social media. You’re looking at the new administrator of our Tumblr account, as well as our new Pinterest account. You are on at least one of these, right? If you are – or even if you aren’t – you should check out our pages. I’ve been posting pictures, petitions, and general news items, and I’ll try to keep you updated on what’s going on in the shark world. I hope it’s a good resource for you. Basically, I’m trying to create a “one-stop shop” for all your shark news and information needs, updated daily. Staying in touch with us is a great way to stay updated and to be a Shark Defender.

Give our sites a look, and don’t forget to “like” or “follow” us! And, feel free to pass along cool articles or pictures that you think would be good to feature on the page! #FinSanity @SharkDefenders, and, of course, most importantly, #AJRocks (just kidding).

Alyssa Sablan is Shark Defender's student intern.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Cartoonist Jim Toomey on Sharks and Ocean Health

Jim Toomey, renowned ocean life cartoonist, says there's a lot we can learn from Sherman the shark.

For 15 years, Toomey has been creating the daily comic strip Sherman's Lagoon, which appears in over 150 newspapers in North America. It combines Toomey's two lifelong passions: drawing and the sea. Now, he's partnered with the Pew Environment Group to create a series of short films to help educate people about ocean life.

The inspiration for Toomey's comic strip can be traced back to a family vacation in the Bahamas where he saw a real shark swimming in a remote lagoon. The Bahamas also happens to be the site of one the world's first shark sanctuaries, a place where sharks are completely protected from fishing. Since they are at the top of the food chain, protecting sharks is an important part of maintaining a healthy marine life balance. In a new film, Toomey enlists the help of Sherman himself to illustrate just how important sharks are to ocean health.

Monday, June 4, 2012

How Much Are Shark Fins Worth?

How expensive do shark fins get?  These sharks were for sale in Los Angeles a few months ago for US$1,200/lb (US$2,640/kg).  Does anyone have any evidence of them selling for more?  If so, please email to

Friday, June 1, 2012

Burn Baby Burn

Photo Credit: Javier Maradiaga
The Pew Environment Group posted today video of authorities in Honduras burning confiscated illegal shark fins.  There are also a number of photos posted to Facebook.  From the release:
One year after President Porfirio Lobo Sosa created a permanent shark sanctuary in Honduran waters, he joined the country’s top law enforcement officials today to watch the burning of hundreds of illegal shark fins. These confiscated fins, worth up to $300 per pound ($700 per kg) in the global marketplace, were destroyed as part of ongoing efforts by authorities to enforce shark protections in Honduras.

“Unfortunately there are few limits on the number of sharks that can be killed beyond the borders of our sanctuary, but we are committed to putting a stop to this activity in Honduras,” Lobo said. “These animals play an important role in maintaining healthy coastal areas, our fisheries are dependent upon them, and they provide revenue by bringing tourists and divers to Honduras to see sharks. They are worth far more alive than dead.”  
Shark Defenders offers congrats and thanks to the leaders and people of Honduras for taking such strong measures to protect our sharks.

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