Friday, February 24, 2012

Illegal Shark Fishing Bust in the Marshalls

Excellent news coming out of the Marshall Islands this week as the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority has ramped up their enforcement efforts and have begun issuing fines to vessels violating last October's declaration of the Marshall Islands Shark Sanctuary, the largest of its kind in the world. The story of a US$125,000 fine for one Japanese vessel is receiving international attention (here, here, here, here, and here) and kudos from across the globe. Here is the story from Majuro's hometown paper, the Marshall Islands Journal:

SHARK ATTACK
MIMRA HUNTS DOWN ALL OF THE ILLEGAL TAKERS OF FINS

Enforcement of the new ban on shark fishing in the RMI is stepping up, with MIMRA and law enforcement personnel boarding dozens of vessels, and confiscating shark fins, skins, and fishing gear.

Last month, MIMRA levied and received a $125,000 fine against the Japanese transshipment vessel Satsuma, the first fine issued under the PL2011-63, Fisheries Amendment Act of 2011 that went into force late last year.

Director Glen Joseph
“It is illegal to have sharks on board,” said MIMRA Director Glen Joseph. MIMRA began enforcing the ban on sharks and shark fins late last year, initially confiscating gear but not issuing fines. Instead, enforcement officers put commercial fishermen — and others — on notice that they faced future fines if they continue to bring shark and shark products through the RMI. An unannounced raid at the Marshall Islands Fishing Venture late last year resulted in the boarding of many vessels and confiscation of sharks and shark fishing gear, said MIMRA enforcement officer Marcella Tarkwon.

She said enforcement teams have boarded dozens of longliners and transshipment vessels in Majuro over the past two months.

“We’ve sent notices (about the law) to all agents,” Tarkwon said. “They are responsible to let the vessels know.”

Both Joseph and Tarkwon said when enforcement personnel find sharks, the captains and crew offer many excuses: “We didn’t know about the law,” “they were not caught in the RMI,” or “they were caught before the law was approved.”

“It doesn’t matter where the sharks were caught,” Joseph said. “If you have shark on board, you are in violation of the law.”

“The gear (locally-based) longliners were using is prohibited by the shark law,” said Tarkwon. “We went through 41 longliners based at MIFV. We confiscated sharks and cut off fishing gear (from the vessels) and burned the fins.” A week later, a visit to MIFV found “the vessels clean, with no sign of sharks,” Tarkwon said.

“We work with the police and go as a team,” she said.

Written by Giff Johnson and published in the Marshall Islands Journal on February 24, 2012
A job well done to Glen Joseph and his team at the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority!

Show your support for the Marshall Islands Shark Sanctuary and the proposed Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary by liking Micronesia Shark Defenders on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Socio-economic value and community benefits from shark-diving tourism in Palau: A sustainable use of reef shark populations

Arguments for conservation of sharks based on their role in the maintenance of healthy marine ecosystems have failed to halt the worldwide decline in populations. Instead, the value of sharks as a fishery commodity has severely reduced the abundance of these animals. Conservation may be assisted by the development of an alternative approach that emphasizes the economic value of sharks as a non-harvested resource. Our study quantifies the value of a tourism industry based on shark diving. Using data collected from surveys, as well as government statistics, we show that shark diving is a major contributor to the economy of Palau, generating US$18 million per year and accounting for approximately 8% of the gross domestic product of the country. Annually, shark diving was responsible for the disbursement of US$1.2 million in salaries to the local community, and generated US$1.5 million in taxes to the government. If the population of approximately 100 sharks that interact with tourists at popular dive sites was harvested by fishers, their economic value would be at most US$10 800, a fraction of the worth of these animals as a non-consumptive resource. Fishers earn more selling fish for consumption by shark divers than they would gain by catching sharks. Shark diving provides an attractive economic alternative to shark fishing, with distribution of revenues benefiting several sectors of the economy, stimulating the development and generating high revenues to the government, while ensuring the ecological sustainability of shark populations.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL STUDY

ACTION ALERT: Testimony needed to add Squaliformes to the seven orders of sharks currently protected in Guam


Please be advised that a Public Hearing for Bill No. 405-31 (COR) will be conducted on Wednesday, February 22, 2012, at 10:00 AM in the Legislature's Public Hearing room. If enacted the bill will include Squaliformes amongst the seven orders of sharks currently defined in the Guam Code Annotated. Your support via written and oral testimony will be greatly appreciated by Senator BJ Cruz and Senator Rory Respicio. Please send all written testimony to the following address:

Senator Rory J. Respicio, Chairperson, Committee on Rules; Federal, Foreign & Micronesian Affairs; and Human & Natural Resources, and may be submitted via email to cor@guamlegislature.org; fax to (671) 472‐3547; or hand‐delivery/mail to 155 Hesler Place, Hågatña, Guam 96910.

Please extend this invitation to others within your office you feel appropriate. Please bring 10 copies of your testimony to the Public Hearing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day from Ted Williams and @sharkdefenders

Earlier this week, Kraft (makers of everyone's bright yellow mac & cheesy goodness) made a Youtube video starring Ted Williamsthe man with the golden voice—and asked followers to send Tweets to the ones they love hashmarked with #voiceoflove. For every #voiceoflove Tweet sent, KRAFT promised to donate 100 boxes of mac & cheese—up to 100,000 boxes—to Feeding America.

Thus inspired, we sent out these gems:
I won't be your valentine if you bring me shark fin soup. #voiceoflove @sharkdefenders

Bull sharks show their love by biting their partners with their massive jaws. Aren't you glad you're not a bull shark? #voiceoflove @sharkdefenders

If you'll be my valentine, I'll ask a thresher shark to stun some mackerel with his tail for our dinner #voiceoflove @sharkdefenders

I love you all more than a whale shark loves phytoplankton. Yum! #voiceoflove @sharkdefenders
To top it off, Kraft and Ted promised to read their favorites and post them to Youtube. And guess who was picked as one of the winning tweets?


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Los tiburones y la urgencia de su protección en México

Guest Blog
by Matt Rand


Aun cuando poseen dicha posición, los tiburones se encuentran hoy amenazados como resultado de prácticas de pesca dañinas y de la creciente demanda por las aletas y otras partes de su cuerpo, que se comercian también internacionalmente.

Cada año, se matan de 26 a 73 millones de animales alrededor del mundo, principalmente para surtir de aletas el mercado internacional. El gran cazador se ha convertido en cazado, y México es responsable de más de 4% de la captura global.

Debido a la sobrepesca no regulada, desde hace más de 50 años muchas especies de tiburones se encuentran al borde de la extinción. Por ejemplo, en el Golfo de México, las poblaciones de los tiburones jaquetones, alguna vez una de las especies más comunes en mar abierto, se han reducido en más de 99% desde 1950.

Con menos tiburones, habrá repercusiones en la salud de los océanos, y por ende, en las comunidades locales que dependen de él para su sustento diario. Algunos estudios han demostrado que sin estos animales, los ecosistemas oceánicos pueden sufrir desbalances, porque comenzarán a tener problemas otras poblaciones de depredadores, peces vegetarianos, y se afectaría la estabilidad de los arrecifes de coral.

En México, en especial en Yucatán, la seguridad alimentaria y el desarrollo económico dependen fuertemente de la salud de los arrecifes de coral y de los tiburones. La economía local se beneficia en gran parte del buceo, que incluye el nado con tiburones toro y tiburones ballena, así como otras atracciones: la visita al área de crianza de tiburones aletinegros de arrecife, la zona de migración de las rayas águila doradas, o la cueva de los tiburones durmientes. Todas estas actividades están ligadas al turismo y, por tanto, son actividades económicas importantes, que en el largo plazo, dependen de la protección de estos animales.

Otros países ya se han dado cuenta del valor que conlleva proteger a los tiburones en sus aguas. Por ejemplo, un tiburón de arrecife posee un valor anual de aproximadamente 179 000 dólares para la industria del turismo de Palao, en Filipinas. En 2011, este pequeño Estado isleño del Pacífico obtuvo su récord de visitantes, lo cual, según el mismo director de la Autoridad de Turismo el país, se debió principalmente a la declaración que hiciera el presidente al crear el primer santuario de tiburones en el mundo.

Actuar ¡ahora!

Como uno de los países más biodiversos del mundo, México tiene una oportunidad única para transformarse en líder global de los esfuerzos que buscan proteger a estos animales, especialmente aquellos que habitan el Arrecife Mesoamericano, segunda barrera de coral más grande del mundo. México sabe de esfuerzos de conservación, es así que la Reserva de la Biosfera de Sian Ka’an, establecida en 1986, protegió una gran zona del Caribe mexicano, principalmente en la zona sur costera de la Provincia de Quintana Roo.

La protección de los tiburones de Yucatán podría contribuir tanto regional como globalmente a los esfuerzos tendientes a la conservación de estos animales. Una zona resguardada en toda la extensión de las aguas jurisdiccionales de México desde Holbox hacia el sur, por toda la cosa de la Provincia de Quintana Roo, se uniría con el reciente santuario de tiburones, creado por el presidente de Honduras el año pasado para toda su zona económica exclusiva. Así, podría crearse el primer santuario que logra unir dos esfuerzos de protección en países contiguos. Si a estos esfuerzos le siguieran Belice y Guatemala, estos animales podrían vivir, reproducirse y moverse libremente y sin peligro a través del Arrecife Mesoamericano, ayudando así a restaurar y mantener este rico ecosistema.

México tiene una larga historia con los tiburones. De hecho, algunos creen que la palabra tiburón en inglés (shark) proviene de la palabra maya xoc. México tiene ahora la oportunidad de contribuir a la tendencia global de conservación de los tiburones. El país puede transformarse en uno de los líderes en la protección de estas majestuosas criaturas, tomando una acción concreta ahora. Así, las futuras generaciones se beneficiarán de un medio ambiente marino diverso, mantenido por poblaciones saludables de tiburones.

***Matt Rand es director del Programa de Conservación Global de Tiburones del Pew Environment Group.

ENGLISH

Sharks have ruled the top of the ocean food chain for more than 400 million years, predating not only the dinosaurs, but all terrestrial animals. They are among the world’s perfect hunters and have influenced the behavior and evolution of a vast array of marine species.

Despite their critical position in the ocean ecosystem, sharks are now threatened as a result of harmful fishing practices and the increased human demand for their fins and other body parts. Each year, 26 million to 73 million of these animals are killed around the world, largely to supply the international fin trade. The ultimate hunter has become the hunted, and Mexico is responsible for more than 4 percent of its global catch.

Due to unregulated overfishing over the past 50 years, many shark species have been fished to near extinction. For example, Gulf of Mexico populations of oceanic whitetip sharks, once one of the most populous species in the open ocean, have been reduced by as much as 99 percent since 1950.

Fewer sharks can create serious repercussions for the health of our ocean and for local communities that depend on the marine environment for their livelihoods. Studies have revealed that without these animals, the ocean’s ecosystem can become unbalanced, leading to cascading changes in populations of smaller predators, plant-eating fish, and even the stability of coral reefs.

In Mexico, especially in the Yucatan, food security and economic development rely heavily upon healthy coral reefs and shark populations. The local economy benefits greatly from dive tourism, including well-established bull shark and whale shark dives. Other attractions, such as a blacktip shark nursery, golden ray migration zone, and the cave of the sleeping sharks, a dive site that changed the way scientists perceived the behavior of these species, are strong tourist draws. Maintaining this economic activity requires safeguarding the animals themselves.

Other countries are already seeing the value of protecting sharks in their waters. An individual reef shark has an estimated annual value of US$179,000 to the tourism industry of Palau. In 2011, the tiny Pacific island republic set a record for visitors, a development the chairman of the Palau Visitors Authority credits to the country’s 2009 declaration of the world’s first shark sanctuary.

As one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, Mexico is uniquely situated to become a major contributor to global shark conservation efforts, especially in the region along the Mesoamerican reef, the second-largest barrier reef on the planet. The people of Mexico have a clear record of protecting their rich natural heritage. For example, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve established in 1986 already safeguards large portions of the Mexican Caribbean, including the nearshore area of southern Quintana Roo.

A Yucatan shark preserve would contribute to both regional and global conservation efforts. Such a safe haven, encompassing the full extent of Mexican waters on the eastern half of the Yucatan Peninsula, would link up with the Honduran exclusive economic zone, which was declared a shark sanctuary last year. Together, these areas would create the first contiguous protections for sharks between neighboring countries in the Americas. Should Belize and Guatemala move forward with similar measures, these animals would live and reproduce more safely throughout the Mesoamerican reef, helping to restore and maintain the region’s rich ecosystem.

Mexico has a long history with the shark. In fact, some say the English word “shark” comes from the Mayan word “xoc.” Mexico now has the opportunity to contribute to the global trend of shark conservation. The country can become a leader in the protection of these majestic creatures by acting now, so future generations will benefit from a more diverse ocean environment maintained by healthy shark populations.

***Rand is director of global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group. Published in Equilibrio.mx on February 7, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Sharks create oxygen" on WhySharksMatter

The sharks and oxygen myth has been getting a lot of attention in the shark conservation community lately. Graduate student David Shiffman who blogs at WhySharksMatter weighs in on his blog today:
Sharks in in no way connected to the global supply of atmospheric oxygen. If every single species of shark went extinct, there would be a variety of negative ecological effects, but a reduction in the global supply of atmospheric oxygen would not be among them. There is not a shred of scientific evidence supporting the idea that the loss of sharks would affect our oxygen supply- not a single scientific paper, not a single technical report. I’ve attended a dozen scientific conferences focusing on marine ecology or shark biology (including three international conferences) and I’ve never seen or heard of anyone presenting or even discussing this. To the best of my knowledge, not a single person who has authored a scientific paper or technical report supports this idea. Despite the complete lack of any kind of credible evidence, and despite many recent blog posts thoroughly debunking it (see here here here here here here and here ), this pseudoscience  just won’t die.

The premise of the sharks and oxygen claim is as follows:
A) Sharks, many of which are apex predators, are important in regulating marine food webs;
B) Phytoplankton, which create oxygen through photosynthesis, are in marine food webs;
C) Therefore, without sharks, phytoplankton populations will crash and we won’t have any more oxygen and we’ll all die.

A and B are reasonable enough- we know that under certain circumstances, apex predators can play important roles in structuring and regulating food webs, and we know that phytoplankton produce oxygen (though how much oxygen phytoplankton produces is another debate entirely). It’s part C of the sharks and oxygen claim that’s the problem.
Read the full post at WhySharksMatter.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Comparing the US Shark Fin Bans

Guest blog
by Don Gourlie


Sharks are typically thought of as cold blooded killers that will seek out and attack humans with no provocation. While it is true that sharks are powerful creatures, evolved to become apex predators in their environment, they have very little interest in humans as a meal and most shark bites result from confusion. The reality is that sharks should be scared of us, not us of them. Sharks are hunted by humans and killed for shark fin soup.. The soup is composed of chicken broth and shark fin, which has very little taste, and is added for texture and supposed health benefits. A bowl of the soup can sell for the equivalent of $200 in many markets, and as a result sharks have been overfished in many fisheries around the world.

Over the past two years, several of the United States and US territories have enacted legislation with an aim to protect sharks and reduce the pressure of shark fishing worldwide. Shark fin bans have been passed in Hawaii, California, Washington, Oregon, and the U.S territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Each law carries penalties for violating the laws, most of which involve fines and minimal jail time.

Hawaii was the first state to enact a shark fin ban in May of 2010, and its ban remains the strictest of all the shark fin bans. The law carries increases penalties for first, second, and third penalties, starting with a $5,000 minimum fine for a first offense and a maximum $50,000 fine or one year of jail time for the third offense. In addition a second or third offense can also result in seizure of property and fishing vessels. This bill was championed by Senator Clayton Hee who remains an advocate for sharks and has urged lawmakers in other states to adopt shark fin bans.

Washington and Oregon each passed bans in May of 2011 and California passed its ban in October of 2011. Oregon’s ban would carry a maximum fine of $2,500 for a first offense increasing with each offense up to a maximum of $25,000 for fourth offense as well as the possibility of jail time under a class A misdemeanor. Washington’s ban stipulates that when a person sells or trades a shark fin, or prepares a shark fin for human consumption, they will be committing a gross misdemeanor, a crime which typically carries a small fine or a maximum one year prison sentence. The offense is increased to a class C felony if other criteria are met, such as fishing for shark in an area closed to fishing. A violation of California’s shark fin ban is a misdemeanor and carries a minimum fine of $100, and a maximum fine of $1,000 or six months in prison. These penalties are not as clear as the penalties in the Hawaiian law and appear to be less harsh. This is likely because Hawaii is more concerned with the abundance of wildlife surrounding the islands and the amount of money that ecotourism brings to the state. As a result Hawaii has a much larger economic interest in retaining the natural balance of Marine life than many other states.

The fear with these enactments is that the penalties are not harsh enough. Of the three contiguous states with shark fin bans, Washington and Oregon’s laws are undoubtedly the strongest but still fall short of the Hawaiian law in terms of maximum fines and property seizure. The California ban has no increased penalties for second or third offense, which decreases the additional incentive to cease finning activities after a first offense. In addition, the California law has very low minimum fines associated with a violation of the law. The price for a bowl of shark fin soup can be as high as $200, and a pound of shark meat can retail for $1,200 or more. The minimum fines and punishments for violating the recently passed state laws range from $100 in California, to $5,000 in Hawaii. Some people may feel that they will be able to quickly pass the fins along to the consumer with a small risk of being caught, and that if they are caught, the lucrative business will outweigh the risks. This will be especially true if the demand for fins remains the same but the legislation causes the supply to decrease. In turn the price will increase exponentially and any individual or company that wishes to ignore the law will be able to still turn a profit as the fines will be easily absorbed by the revenue from selling fins.

Several other states such as Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, and New York have introduced shark fin bans of their own. The ban proposed in Maryland is modeled after the Hawaiian law but carries only civil penalties in the form of fines. The nature of civil penalties is to reimburse the state for harm done, rather than to punish the wrongdoer and there is no possibility of jail time. This bill has stiff fines that increase if there are repeat offenders but could be strengthened if criminal penalties are included. The proposed shark fin ban in Virginia would make a violation a class 1 misdemeanor ($2,500 fine and/or less than one year in jail) but has no increasing penalties for repeat offenders. As these states contemplate and sponsor shark fin bans, advocates urge citizens to encourage their representatives to strengthen the penalties for violations and show support for these bills. These laws prove that humans are able to realize our potential for change before it is too late, but shark fin bans may not be enough to curtail the overfishing that is currently depleting shark populations around the world if they do not effectively deter the act.

Don Gourlie is currently a student at Lewis & Clark Law School, pursuing a law degree with a concentration in environmental law. Prior to Lewis & Clark he attended the University of Tampa where he obtained a degree in marine science and biology. A majority of his undergraduate work was spent studying shark ecology and the potential effects of overfishing and the finning industry on marine ecosystems. He is attending law school in the hopes of furthering law and policy in favor sharks as an advocate for these misunderstood animals.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

We The People Responds

On Friday afternoon, NOAA, on behalf of the Obama Administration, responded to our petition to ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark and shark products, including shark fin.
Thank you for your petition and concern about the sale, trade, and possession of shark and shark products, including shark fins. The Obama Administration shares your concern about the status of shark stocks and the sustainability of their exploitation in world fisheries, and is committed to improving their management and conservation.
6,495 Shark Defenders signed the petition and put shark conservation on the Obama Administration's radar. Ours is the 45th official We The People response, and from what we can tell it is the first to address marine ecosystem issues.

Unfortunately, the answer we got was no.  The petition lists the steps the United States has taken to protect sharks species, but does not address our request for a trade ban of shark.  However, "the Obama Administration recognizes the importance of all marine resources and continues to support innovative and conservation-minded efforts to achieve healthy oceans and fisheries worldwide."

We can give credit where credit is due.  The United States doesn't kill as many sharks as Indonesia and Spain, and their policies are certainly better than many countries.  However, the United States still kills more sharks on an annual basis than Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Thailand, and Malaysia, countries that are often criticized for the number of sharks they kill.

The United States is not leading the world in shark conservation, neither in policy nor in advocacy. Many nations are ahead of them, including Palau, which despite criticisms they are not conducting enforcement, busted another illegal shark fishing vessel last week (Also to give credit to the United States, it was the US Coast Guard that apprehended the illegal shark fishing vessel in the Marshall Islands this past November). Shark sanctuaries and proper management are the way forward for protecting threatened shark species, not finning bans. As we point out in our petition, finning bans determine how a dead shark is discarded, not how many are killed or whether they actually live.

The shark conservation movement is evolving to move beyond finning. Despite the imagery we are all familiar with, finning is illegal throughout most of the world with only a few pockets remaining (i.e. Venezuela). Enforcement remains a problem everywhere, of course.

We look forward to continuing our work with the network of Shark Defenders to obtain stronger shark conservation laws in the United States and around the world, after all,  The Obama Administration shares your concern about the status of shark stocks and the sustainability of their exploitation in world fisheries, and is committed to improving their management and conservation.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Review of Shark Defenders' Petitions

Since our inception in 2010, Shark Defenders has supported the petitions of our partners and friends, including petitions to ban the shark fin trade in Washington, win a research award for a shark scientist, and protect whale sharks from purse seiners on the high seas, oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks in US waters, and grey nurse sharks in Australia.  You have also posted countless petitions on our Facebook page, asking us to help you create protected areas for sharks, close down the trade of shark fins, and raise consumer awareness of eating shark.  We've offered up this blog to like-minded conservationists and have published guest posts from Fiji, Malaysia, The Bahamas, and Canada, all asking our supporters to protect sharks.

With all those blogs and facebook posts, you might not realize that we've only sponsored three petitions.  In January 2011 we asked you to support closing down the shark fin trade in Guam, in September 2011 we asked you to tell US President Barack Obama to ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark and shark parts, including shark fin, and this month we are asking you to support shark protections in southeastern Mexico.

14,829 of you signed our online petition to ban the sale of shark fin in Guam.  Another 300+ wrote emails and letters, which added to the thousands of signatures and letters from Guam students, set a record for testimony recieved on a pending bill in the Guam Senate.  So much testimony came in so fast, that according to Senator Rory Respecio, you crashed the blackberries of several senators and staffers.


A few months later, shark scientist David Shiffman gave a presentation on the use of Facebook, Twitter and blogs in the modern conservation movement as part of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group's "Securing the Future of Sharks and Rays" symposium at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, Canada.  He highlights the events in Guam last year (starts at 10:47).

Pow! How about them apples?

In September, we decided to take advantage of the Obama White House's new We The People initiative, and started a petition asking him to ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark and shark products, including shark fin.  According to the website, if we could garner 5,000 signatures within 30 days, the White House would issue a formal position on our petition.

The good news?  We got more than 5,000 signatures within the 30 day window.

The bad news?  Before the deadline, the Obama Administration changed the threshold to 25,000 signatures.  Super disappointing.

Several other petitions that passed the 5,000 threshold, but not the 25,000 threshold, recieved responses.  We weren't one of those lucky ones.  Again, super disappointing.

We are hoping that our third petition is more successful.  We have teamed up with some environmentalists in Mexico from an organization called Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental to ask President Felipe Calderón to pass protections. We are aiming for 5,000 signatures by the end of February, so will you help us? Write a blog, post to Facebook, and tweet away!

UPDATE:

On February, 3, 2012, the White House responded to our petition!
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