|Shelly Clark (center) with Steve Lyon (left) and Jess Cramp (right)|
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.