Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pacific Nations Call on Tuna Commission to Protect Whale Sharks

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) said countries must agree to protect whale sharks from fishing at next week’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Manila, Philippines.

Each year the WCPFC brings together the Pacific Island countries, Asian nations, US, EU and other foreign fishers to meet and decide rules for fishing of tuna throughout the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest tuna fishery, supplying 50% of the global tuna supply.

This year the Commission must decide on a conservation and management measure for whale sharks at its annual meeting from 2-6 December 2012. In 2010, PNA proposed to WCPFC a ban on setting purse seine fishing nets around whale sharks which was not adopted and the issue was deferred to this year’s meeting.

Up to 12 metres long, whale sharks are the largest living fish species in the world admired for their distinctive spotted markings and gentleness towards divers. Whale sharks sometimes provide shelter for swimming tuna and other fishes in the open sea. A paper from the Secretariat of Pacific Community (SPC) stated that in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean observers have recorded intentional setting of purse seine nets on whale sharks, as well as whale sharks being captured in nets accidentally. This fishing plus their slowness to reproduce, with whale sharks living around 70 years, has meant they are listed by IUCN as vulnerable to extinction.

The PNA banned setting nets on whale sharks and require whale sharks to be released alive if accidentally circled in nets in 2010.

PNA Chair Nanette Malsol said: “The PNA are global leaders in conservation and management of tuna but we are also concerned about the decline of other large marine species like the whale shark. We took the step of banning setting of nets around whale sharks in the PNA area. Next week we want WCPFC to protect whale sharks throughout the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.”

“PNA supports the proposal to address the impact of fishing on whale sharks put forward by Australia. It is not acceptable that these vulnerable species should be killed or injured just to catch a few extra fish. We must protect these beautiful creatures of the sea as part of our responsibilities under the WCPFC and the United Nations Law of the Sea.”

Released by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement on November, 27, 2012.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Protecting Sharks at the Regional and Global Level

Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

Happy Thanksgiving!

This time of year brings not just a spate of holidays, but a veritable influx of RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organizations), to be followed by March’s Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.

RFMOs are international bodies made up of countries that share a practical and/or financial interest in managing and conserving fish stocks in a particular region. RFMOs are established by international agreements or treaties, and may take different forms. Some focus on regulating fishing for a particular species or group of species. Others have a broader mandate, with responsibility to ensure that the fishery does not negatively affect the wider marine ecosystem and the species within it. There are approximately 17 RFMOs covering various geographic areas, some of which overlap. Of these, five are the so-called tuna RFMOs, which manage fisheries for tuna and other large species such as swordfish and marlin. Together, the five tuna RFMOs have responsibility for managing fisheries in approximately 91 percent of the world’s oceans.

And because of all of the upcoming meetings – and opportunities for governing bodies to pass international protections for sharks – we here at Shark Defenders wanted to give you a playbook of what species are up for protections, and where.

ICCAT, or the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, is responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. ICCAT is also responsible for other fish species caught in tuna fisheries in its convention area, principally sharks. Last week, ICCAT members discussed prohibiting the retention of porbeagle sharks (check out the CITES mention at the end of the factsheet linked here); establishing concrete, science-based precautionary catch limits for shortfin mako and blue sharks; and requiring the use of the best-available types of fishing gear for reducing bycatch. At the conclusion of their meeting, ICCAT members agreed to advance shark protections in the future, modernizing and amending the treaty under which the commission operates. This includes adding a mandate for the conservation and management of sharks.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) oversees the world's largest tuna fishery. It is responsible for fishing in an area that covers almost 20 percent of the Earth's surface. The waters are home to many types of sharks, among them some of the world’s most at-risk species.

Proposals have been introduced to ban the retention of silky sharks, prohibit purse seine vessels from intentionally setting nets around whale sharks; require that Members and Cooperating Non-Members use shark bycatch mitigation measures to protect sharks; and prohibit the removal of shark fins at sea, in an effort to improve enforcement of the RFMO’s already-existing shark finning ban. Non-government organizations like the Pew Environment and Greenpeace are also calling for the protection of hammerhead species and regulations on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs). The meeting, which this year occurs the 2-6 December of 2012, is rapidly approaching.

The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) doesn’t meet for a few more months; however, excitement is already mounting for the February 2013 Technical Meeting on Sharks.

The IATTC manages tuna fisheries across 20% of the world’s total ocean area in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. This means that, in addition to watching tuna stocks, the RFMO must be cognizant of other species that may be affected by the fishery – including sharks. Hammerhead and silky sharks are particularly impacted negatively by fishing in the IATTC convention area. Hammerheads are targeted for their highly valued fins and are also caught incidentally in fishing gear as bycatch. Silky sharks are the main shark species caught by purse seines vessels, as well as by longlines. Data from an ongoing silky shark assessment show that their populations in the IATTC region have declined significantly, particularly in the south.

2012’s IATTC meeting proved to be a disappointment for sharks. Despite proposals by the European Union and Colombia to prohibit the retention of hammerheads and silky sharks, action was not taken to protect these vulnerable shark species. IATTC also failed to ban the use of wire leaders in the longline fishery, and failed to prohibit the removal of shark fins at sea.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty restricting the international trade –not domestic consumption – of species whose survival is at risk. Species may be considered for three tiers of protections, called “listings,” which determine the degree to which trade is restricted. Every 2-3 years, countries that are a party to CITES convene during a “Conference of the Parties” (CoP) to discuss new additions to listings.

Presently, only 3 shark species are protected at the second-most restrictive tier (Appendix II): Whale sharks, great whites, and basking sharks. The exciting thing is that, although no species received protections at the last CoP in 2010, several shark and ray species have been proposed for protections for the meeting in March 2013. Keep your fingers crossed for manta rays, hammerheads, porbeagles, and oceanic whitetips; 2013 could become the year of the shark.

Alyssa Sablan is Shark Defender's student intern.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

American Pacific Islands Say 'NO' to Shark Trade

Hawaii, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and now American Samoa have implemented laws and regulations banning the sale, trade, and possession of shark fin, effectively closing down the shark fin trade in the American Pacific Islands.  Including California, Washington, Oregon, and Illinois, a total of 8 American states and territories have closed down this unsustainable trade.  The law in American Samoa is the strongest of the eight because it explicitly bans shark fishing in territorial waters.

According to American Samoa Department of Commerce Acting Director Lelei Peau, the new "rule means that outside fishers cannot even enter American Samoa's territorial waters with any sharks or shark parts."

Shark Defenders sends a big fa'afetai and thank you to the people of American Samoa.  If you'd like to express your thanks as well, please share, tweet, and pin this graphic designed by popular Indian cartoonist Anju Sabu.  You can follow the adventures of 'The Shark' at www.ohdakuwaqa.com.

The Pew Environment Group has photos and quotes from the shark defenders who helped implement this policy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Samoan Shark Defender Gangnam Style

That's Shark Defender and KSBS radio DJ Joe Iosua aka 'J-Smooth' showing off his Gangnam Style in American Samoa. When he's not riding invisible horses around the island, J-smooth can be found promoting shark conservation in villages, classrooms, and over the airwaves. He's literally the voice of shark conservation in American Samoa here, here, here, and here.
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