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.

ATLANTIC
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.

WESTERN PACIFIC
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.

EASTERN PACIFIC
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.

GLOBAL
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.

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