by Angelo O'Connor Villagomez
Efforts to conserve sharks have spread rapidly across the Pacific in the past few years. Palau declared full protections for sharks in 2009, and Tokelau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands have established shark sanctuaries since then. Every U.S. state and territory in the tropical Pacific also has taken steps to limit trade in shark fins from their shores.
As these protections have come into force, The Pew Charitable Trusts has worked with government and nonprofit organization partners to implement the new laws. Last year, Pew sponsored a marine enforcement training in the Marshall Islands and a shark-fin identification training with fisheries officers in Fiji. We also worked with the Palauan government and the Micronesian Shark Foundation to enforce shark protections in the Southwest Islands of Palau, resulting in the apprehension of two illegal fishing vessels.
In addition, we are working with countries interested in implementing new shark conservation measures. Although countries in the Pacific have distinct histories, languages, and cultures, they are similar in many ways. Conservationists working in one jurisdiction often deal with similar issues as those living in another. They can learn from one another, but distance and communication limitations can make connecting difficult, even in the digital age.
This was the inspiration behind the Pacific Shark School, a three-day workshop that took place at the end of January in Suva, Fiji. Policy and shark conservation experts from Saipan, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, and the United States met to share experiences from protection efforts in their islands. The workshop was also an opportunity to teach nonprofit organization leaders how to advocate for stronger shark management and conservation measures and how to accomplish policy changes at home.
Senior staff of the San Francisco-based Coral Reef Alliance, our partner in Fiji, joined Pew shark conservation experts Angelo Villagomez and Jen Sawada in organizing the workshop. Topics included shark ecology and ecotourism economy, regional and international shark management efforts, and campaign strategy.
Although participants agreed that more action is needed at the regional level, little has been done to date by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which was established to prevent overfishing and protect fish stocks and habitat. At its last meeting, a proposal to reduce shark bycatch was defeated, and the commission could be years away from comprehensive shark management.
Until scientific catch limits in this region are set that take into consideration sharks’ unique biology, it will be up to individual countries–and the people who attended Pacific Shark School–to help implement measures protecting sharks within their jurisdictions.
Published by the Pew Charitable Trusts on February 19, 2013