Thursday, March 28, 2013

Manta Rays in Sri Lanka

KerriLynn Miller of the Pew Charitable Trusts and Daniel Fernando at CITES
Al Jazeera carries a story today about the manta ray trade in Sri Lanka Diminishing Ray of Hope.  The story quotes Daniel Fernando of the Manta Trust, who was with us in Bangkok, Thailand earlier this month at CITES.
Marine biologist Daniel Fernando has been surveying Sri Lanka’s fishing industry for over two years. Today, he is in the western coastal town of Negombo, at one of the country’s busiest fish markets. He is passionate about saving manta and mobula rays from extinction. Fernando carefully examines a pile of rays on the pier, collecting DNA samples for population studies.

Researchers estimate that fisheries the world over net more than 100,000 such rays a year, mostly in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. Many catches remain undocumented. Until recent years, most fishermen avoided them. Their meat is cheap and they damage fishing nets when entangled.

But that has changed. The burgeoning demand for their gill plates in Chinese medicine – said to cleanse human blood of toxins – has increased fishing pressure worldwide, turning subsistence fishery into a commercial export industry.

Also a member of conservation group Manta Trust, Daniel fears the combination of slow maturation, long gestation and infrequent pregnancies means manta and mobula populations cannot sustain the slaughter. With a wingspan of up to seven metres, manta rays are believed to be at least 15 to 20 years old by the time they are ready to breed. A mature female usually produces one pup every two to five years, with each pregnancy lasting a year. Scientists estimate they live more than 50 years.
KerriLynn Miller of the Pew Charitable Trusts visited Sri Lanka in the weeks leading up to CITES to conduct a shark fin and manta ray gill raker identification training. She wrote a blog Dispatch from Sri Lanka: Observing the Trade of Oceanic Whitetip Sharks in a Local Fish Market and posted photos of sharks and mantas being traded.

Shark Stanley in Slate

The Shark Stanley and Pew teams at CITES
Slate has a great article today Sharks are the New Whales and everybody's favorite paper hammerhead shark gets a mention.
Just as our fear of whales turned to awe, so has our attitude shifted about sharks. Bruce, the smiling shark in Finding Nemo, and friends chanted “Fish are friends, not food,” and a Shark Stanley campaign at the CITES meeting portrayed a friendlier kind of shark.
The story also mentions and links to Pew's shark fin ID guide.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dispatches from Sharklab: Sharks, Sand flies, and Scrubbing Toilets

Guest Blog
by Annie Anderson

In my first blog I explained how late last year I spent six weeks volunteering at the world famous Sharklab in Bimini, The Bahamas. In this blog I discuss some of the many activities I participated in.

Ok so the glamorous life of a shark researcher isn’t always that glamorous. Some of my first duties as a volunteer involved building semi-captive pens for housing sharks ready for experiments, shark night fishing off the dock, and supporting Ph.D. candidate Jean-Sebastien Finger with his video trials focusing on shark behaviour and personality. Several times however I was able to go on amazing shark dives with over 12 Caribbean reef and Blacknose sharks, which were breathtaking experiences! The not so glamorous duties meant I also had to assist with cleaning the lab i.e. scrubbing toilets and prepping meals; all necessary tasks but thankfully I love cleaning!

Weighting the sharks during Mini-PIT
 The week ahead consisted of helping with the labs Mini-PIT Program. Mini-PIT is an annual, six-day tagging project named for the type of tag used (Passive Integrated Transponder - A rice-grain sized microchip identifier) that involves catching juvenile lemon sharks (Between 60 - 120cm) in gillnets at night within a known nursery ground. Our typical PIT day started at 5pm and ended around 7am! To help wrap your brain around the physical exertion needed for PIT, imagine crouching/lying on small, wet boats for over 12 hours, in TOTAL darkness, checking nets with flash lights every 15 minutes, and jumping in the sea at all hours to remove the sharks, fish and crabs from the nets. Some nights it rained and with temperatures dropping you found yourself counting down the hours for a hot shower!

Checking the gillnet every 15 minutes
 So the PIT nights were cold, wet, and tiring, but fun (We often played Mad Libs over the radio to pass some time!) all of this hard work for a better understanding of these lemon sharks, which will ultimately contribute towards protecting them. All night the fish and crabs were continuously released from the nets, while the sharks were swiftly taken over to the tagging boat for processing.

Sharks in the tagging boat
The volunteers and staff measured the sharks, took DNA samples, and then tagged, weighed, and temporarily placed them in large holding pens ready to be used in behavioural trials in the coming days. Sharks were continually monitored to ensure they all remained healthy and unstressed. A stressed lemon shark quickly changes to a blotchy colour and I was personally surprised at how sensitive these lemon sharks were. The team had to work fast and efficiently, including monotonously checking the nets in order to remove sharks as quickly as possible. Shark safety was paramount and I was in my element being surrounded by people who care as much as me about sharks and their safety.

Repairing the gillnets during the day
For the past 18 yrs the Sharklab has monitored the lemon shark population in Bimini assessing survival, growth and mating characteristics. It is well known that female lemon sharks return every two years to Bimini to give birth and their pups can stay around the Bimini islands for up to 6 yrs! Incredible.

Another reason for their capture is to monitor shark behaviour ‘personality traits’ through various observations. Sharks are held and observed in pens for short periods of time, usually not more than two weeks, and are subsequently released.

Beach cleanup time!
Other than Mini-PIT, some of my other volunteer tasks included: repairing the gillnets (whilst being eaten alive by sand flies!), cleaning and collecting plastic and rubbish from the local beaches as part of the lab’s community outreach programme, data input, and supporting other scientists such as Craig O’Connell with his current magnet project, Rob Bullock with his accelerometer project, and Maurits Van Zinnicq Bergmann with his acoustic receiver testing project. All very fascinating and thought-provoking projects.

Days off
Days off were very welcomed and during our downtime we relaxed on the beach and snorkelled in the sea. Those were the hardest days, I swear!

The world famous Bimini shark snorkel
Towards the end of my time at Sharklab we set a shallow water longline, which is a fishing method using baited lines strung together on a “longline.” We set five lines each 500 meters in length, in 2-3m water depth to attract the ‘Big Guns’ and well, we certainly got lucky! We caught 9 tiger, 1 lemon and 1 nurse shark, and I was lucky enough to see them all! Just like with Mini-PIT, the staff and volunteers measured the sharks, took DNA samples, and then tagged and released them all.

We're gonna need a bigger boat!
What was the largest I hear you say? A huge 350cm tiger! An absolutely beautiful shark. I’ve posted several photos of this experience on my Facebook page, so feel free to add me if you’d like to see them.

Thanksgiving in the Sharklab kitchen
During my last week at the lab I spent an amazing Thanksgiving feast with the team and before I knew it, it was time to leave and head home to the cold UK for Christmas. I was so inspired by my visit that I started a week’s fundraising for the lab and raised $500 within the week which went towards a hammerhead tracking device! A great result.

So I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my time at the lab and that it inspires you in some way. In the coming weeks I plan to blog about my recent great hammerhead free-diving experience so watch this space fellow shark lovers and stay tuned!

Annie Anderson is the founder of Sharks Need Love. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger.  More photos from Sharklab are posted to Shark Defenders Facebook Page.  You can follow Sharklab on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates from the station.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Help This Shark Defender and Get the Gift of Music

Shark Defenders: (from left to right) Filmmaker Rob Stewart, Laurie Peterka, Shawn Heinrichs, Cinta M. Kaipat, Meaghan Hassel-Shearer, and former Northern Mariana Islands governor Benigno R. Fitial.
Remember those great kids in Saipan who helped pass a shark fin trade ban back in 2011? They had a lot of help from some very caring adults including this lady, Cinta M. Kaipat. Need your memory jogged?  She appears in our short film Saipan Sharkwater starting at about 2:08.

Cinta has been an environmental advocate for years.  She was one of the main proponents for the 2009 creation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine protected areas on the planet, and more recently helped us launch the Shark Stanley campaign.

Cinta with a whole gaggle of Shark Stanley supporters.
Cinta's latest challenge may be her most important one as it is literally a matter of life or death.  She's dealing with cancer.  The medical facilities on Saipan are not adequate for the care she requires, so she has to spend some time in the Philippines.  Her family is helping her raise money for the treatment and have released an album of Refaluwasch island music.  Cinta's brother Gus is the lead singer on the album, which is titled Trip to Paradise.  He is a professional singer and has been performing for twenty years around the island.

The album contains 14 original songs that are available for digital download and on CDThis link has samples of each song if you want to hear them.  Information on the album and the songs is available here.

We never ask our supporters for donations to run our campaigns, but we would appreciate it if you would purchase an album and help out our friend, Cinta.  All proceeds from the album will go towards her treatment.  Thank you for your continued support.

US Military to Help Enforce Shark Protections

But how will they enforce it?  With the help and support of the United States Navy, that's how!

USS Germantown

The Marianas Variety reports that the Marshall Islands and the United States have signed an amendment to a 2008 maritime surveillance and interdiction cooperation agreement known as the “shiprider” pact. The new agreement will allow Marshallese enforcement officers, many of whom attended an enforcement training sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts in September 2012, to travel onboard US Navy vessels patrolling Marshallese waters. Previously, Marshallese enforcement officers were allowed only on Coast Guard vessels.
Expanding a successful partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard and Marshall Islands law enforcement officials, the U.S. Navy will join in protecting the vast ocean area of this western Pacific nation following the signing of a new agreement in Majuro Tuesday.

U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Thomas Armbruster and Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Phillip Muller signed an amendment to a 2008 maritime surveillance and interdiction cooperation agreement known as the “shiprider” pact.

“This is a new development in our relationship,” said Muller at the ceremony. “Now we can include U.S. Navy ships working with our enforcement agencies to patrol our exclusive economic zone.”

Since 2008, the shiprider agreement has provided authority for Coast Guard vessels to assist the Marshall Islands with maritime law enforcement, primarily focusing on fisheries. Last year, Marshall Islands officials on board a Coast Guard vessel boarded a Japanese vessel and confiscated a large volume of shark fins that are illegal here. The boarding resulted in a $125,000 fine for the vessel.

The new agreement now allows Marshall Islands law enforcement officers to be “shipriders” on Coast Guard, Navy and other U.S. Defense Department vessels.
This is a game changer for marine enforcement in the Pacific and will have significant impacts on illegal fishing. It is impressive enough to have the US Coast Guard enforcing fishing regulations; it is quite another to have the US Navy involved. Imagine a Navy destroyer pulling alongside a suspected illegal fishing vessel!

Congrats and thank you to the people and governments of the Marshall Islands and the United States for this exciting development. Hopefully this successful partnership will spread to the other shark sanctuary countries in the Pacific.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Evolution of Shark Stanley

Shark Stanley in Bangkok in front of all his global supporters
The Shark Stanley campaign began on November 20, 2012 with little more than a name, an idea, and a handful of very determined people. After about a month of discussing how we could engage the world to advocate for shark and manta ray protections at the then-upcoming Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), we settled on something that was a hybrid of the Flat Stanley Project, Ecology Action Center’s Hector the Blue Shark, and those Star Wars mosaic posters popular in the 1990s. The campaign was to be a collaboration between Yale graduate students, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and anyone else who wanted to help. Because students Leah Meth and Onon Bayasgalan were going to head the campaign and be its public face, we decided our target audience would be no less than the youth of the world.

This is the best photo I could find of Onon, Angelo, and Leah.  Sorry, Onon.
There is no shortage of shark petitions on the Internet. We didn’t want to replicate anything that was already out there, so we immediately threw away any notion of doing a signature petition. Pew had conducted a successful campaign a few years back on penguins where they asked people to submit photos of themselves, which were turned into a collage of a penguin (i.e. like the Yoda mosaics). However, we couldn’t just do a single collage because CITES has 178 members and each country gets a vote. We needed to reach out to each of the country delegates individually. The idea of a children’s educational package was also raised. We wanted to do more than just gather signatures; we wanted to actively engage young people and create a dedicated army of activists. Out of this discussion arose the idea of Shark Stanley. We would have a character that was attached to a children’s activity book that people would take photos with that we promised to deliver in a creative manner directly to CITES delegates at the 16th Convention of the Parties (CoP) being held in Bangkok, Thailand on March 3-14, 2013.

We immediately set to work finding an artist to create Shark Stanley and commissioned Dan Yagmin Jr. to create our characters and illustrate our children’s book. We also developed our outreach materials: single page handouts with cutouts of the characters and instructions on what to do. We loaded everything onto the Shark Defenders website and purchased the url

French Polynesia announced their shark sanctuary at WCPFC in December 2012.
The campaign launched a month later on December 17. It was a busy time for those of us working on shark conservation because of the Cook Islands and French Polynesia shark sanctuary declarations and work on sharks at the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Regardless, we launched on Shark Defenders and our partner websites by asking young people (and the young at heart) to photograph themselves holding cutouts of a paper shark named Shark Stanley. Shark Stanley represented the proposal to list scalloped, great, and smooth hammerheads on CITES Appendix II. A photo with Shark Stanley represented a signature to support the proposal. We promised characters representing the other proposals and a children’s book over the coming weeks.

Leah and Onon also started a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. As part of their study at Yale they were tasked with hosting a symposium. This required money. There were also printing and design costs associated with the children’s book and the photo petition and these needed to be covered.

Manta Reina was released on New Year’s Eve, followed by Pierre le Porbeagle on January 4, and Waqi Whitetip on January 9. The response to Shark Stanley and his friends was immediate. In the first three days we received photos from the United States, Canada, Mongolia, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Taiwan POC, South Korea, Germany, and Singapore. We reached 50 countries by the middle of January. Photos poured in from all corners of the globe and we added a new partner organization nearly every day, including Shark Savers, Coral Reef Alliance, Hong Kong Shark Foundation, Taiwan SPCA, Earth Race Conservation, and many other NGOs and dive shops.

The Adventures of Shark Stanley and Friends was released on January 30. It was (and still is) available as a free download on Shark Defenders and Yale’s Sage Magazine. Leah and her classmate Ben Goldfarb wrote the text. Dan Yagmin Jr. illustrated and Monte Kawahara designed the 32-page book. The story contained in the pages explains the threats sharks and manta rays face from a global trade in their parts. And it rhymes.

The Shark Stanley team at Yale (from left to right): Stephanie Stefanski, Jeff Chow, Ben Goldfarb, Onon Bayasgalan, Leah Meth, Angelo Villagomez, Dan Yagmin Jr., Monte Kawahara, Omar Malik, and Laura Johnson.
Leah and Onon hosted their symposium “From Ocean to Plate – An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the International Trade and Conservation of Sharks and Marine Species” on February 15. Dr. Barbara Block, Dr. Paul Anderson, Dr. Demian Chapman, and Dr. Susan Lieberman spoke on the biology and conservation of sharks during the morning session. In the afternoon, David Doubilet, James Prosek, Krishna Thompson, and Barton Seaver spoke of the human connection to sharks and the ocean. Angelo was the moderator. Afterwards we all went out for vegetarian sushi. Leah and Onon’s classmate Omar Malik filmed the talks and has uploaded four of them to Shark Defenders Youtube Channel.
Shark Stanly on Mount Kilimanjaro
Throughout the campaign updates were posted to Shark Defenders blog, Facebook, and Twitter. We also started a Facebook page specifically for Shark Stanley. Using Shark Defenders model of purchasing Facebook ads, Leah was able to increase the number of likes to over 5,000 in two months with only $20.

Shark Stanley in Antarctica
By the end of February Shark Stanley had been to over 120 countries, met thousands of supporters, and had campaign materials translated into 17 languages. During this time Shark Stanley visited the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the deserts of Morocco, the islands along the Mariana Trench, the glaciers of Antarctica, and went diving in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. During this phase of the campaign Leah and Onon spent about four hours per day downloading and sorting the hundreds of photos received each day. As many photos as possible were uploaded to Facebook.

The next phase of the campaign involved preparation for the CITES CoP. Leah and Onon created a 150+ page collage of all the photos we had received prior to February 25 (apologies to everyone who sent in photos after the deadline). We brought 9 copies of the petition to CITES. Seven were in binders to show to delegates, one was used to decorate the booth, and one was used to hand out individual pages to their respective delegates. We printed 1000 Shark Stanley stickers, designed and bought 200 lapel pins, and ordered 2 life size standups.

Turning over petitions to Indonesia
Once we arrived in Bangkok our singular goal was to talk to every single country delegate and turn over the photos from their respective country, something that turned out to be easy since so many people were attracted to our booth by the floor to ceiling photo petition. The Shark Stanley booth was right next to the Pew Charitable Trusts booth, so after we finished telling delegates that the youth of the world and the youth of their respective countries supported the shark and manta ray proposals, Pew would show them how to easily identify shark species by their dorsal fins, and vice versa. A majority of the delegates were supportive and enjoyed looking for their flags on our wall.

Livetweeting the meeting
We continued to give live updates on Facebook and the blog and whenever sharks were discussed in Committee I or Plenary, we live-tweeted the discussion. We worked as a team to tweet. Leah posted verbatim what the delegates were saying on the floor, while Angelo posted commentary and tried to put the discussions in context.

Please share this on Facebook.
After the sharks passed in Committee I, we worked with Shawn Heinrichs, Mary O’Malley, and Paul Hilton to create #StandByYourVote to pressure delegates to keep the vote from being reopened in Plenary. We made it easy for people from around the world to email their respective delegates in Bangkok and demand that they not reopen the vote. Japan and China were expected to try to reopen and overturn the vote, something they successfully did to porbeagles in 2010. There was some grumbling from the other NGOs, but governments were put on notice that the world was watching them.

A clean sweep: 4 for 4
The first Shark Stanley campaign ended on March 14, 2013 with the successful listings of manta rays, hammerheads, porbeagles, and oceanic whitetips on CITES Appendix II. There are no concrete plans for a second campaign, but we are exploring our options.

Thank you, United Kingdom

The people of the United Kingdom were some of the most prolific Shark Stanley campaigners.  Annie Anderson, the newest Shark Defenders blogger, helped us out the gates and gathered photos from Gemma Atkinson and Jessica-Jane Clement and basically anyone she talked to for weeks.  We also had lots of help from our official partners Shark Aid UK and Earth Race Conservation.  Many, but not all, of the photos are posted on Shark Stanley's Facebook page.

We officially presented a full copy of the Shark Stanley petition to Minister of State for Agriculture and Food David Heath.  The minister thanked us and we congratulated and thanked him for the leadership of the UK and EU in proposing and passing the shark proposals at CITES CoP16.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Overfishing Undermining Japan's Own National Interests

We're catching up on emails and non-CITES related news from the last two weeks and missed this important Associated Press story from Japan, Japan's Bluefin Tuna Is Disappearing, But Few Chefs Fear Shortage.
TOKYO (AP) — It is the king of sushi, one of the most expensive fish in the world — and dwindling so rapidly that some fear it could vanish from restaurant menus within a generation.

Yet there is little alarm in Japan, the country that consumes about 80 percent of the world's bluefin tuna. Japanese fisheries experts blame cozy ties between regulators and fishermen and a complacent media for failing to raise public awareness.

"Nobody really knows the bad state bluefin tuna is in," veteran sushi chef Kazuo Nagayama said from his snug, top-end sushi bar in Tokyo's Shimbashi district, a popular area for after-work socializing. "I don't think it'll disappear, but we might not be able to catch any. It's obvious we need to set quotas."
Tuna fishing is linked to shark fishing and this story is worth a read. It also gives some insight into Japan's opposition to conservation measures for economically valuable marine species.

CITES and Sharks on Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera hosted a 25 minute panel discussion on sharks and CITES with Susan Lieberman of the Pew Charitable Trusts, Tom Quinn of International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Colman O'Criodain of World Wildlife Fund. This is probably the most in-depth discussion on CITES CoP16 that you'll find on TV/video. The first three minutes are a news story. The panel starts at 3:30.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dispatches from SharkLab

Guest Blog
by Annie Anderson

Like most of you reading this blog, my passion for sharks has been with me since I was a child. My earliest memory was pouring the contents of my fish tank into the bath so I could swim with my colourful finned friends. My second earliest memory was a real telling off from my Mum for said previous earliest memory!

My name is Annie Anderson and I am the founder of Sharks Need Love. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of blogs about life at the world famous Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation (BBFSF) aka SharkLab. I’m picking up the SharkLab Shark Defender Guest blog duties from former assistant lab manager Tyler Clavelle.

In October 2012 I was accepted as a volunteer to help and support SharkLab. The lab is renowned for its work with lemon sharks and I literally couldn’t wait to get there and see my first lemony coloured friend! The lab is located on South Bimini in The Bahamas about 50 miles east of Miami, which is a long 10 hour flight on Virgin Atlantic from my home in Devon, England.

I arrived in Miami to dark clouds and rain from superstorm Hurricane Sandy. All flights to The Bahamas were canceled, so I holed up in a hotel for a couple of days. When the storm finally passed, I boarded a tiny 8-seater packed with other customers’ groceries and was on my way.

Is that a lemon shark near the mangroves?
The view from the plane was epic to say the least. I scanned the horizon for sharks out my window, but almost as soon as we took off I could see a low island approaching. South Bimini, my home for the next six weeks!

The Bahamas: It Just Keeps Getting Better
The Bimini International Airport is a single story building. At first I thought they were ecofriendly because all the doors and windows were open. I soon learned it was because there was no power on the island. It was a complete power cut! The whole island was without electricity, running water, phones, and Internet, which meant that I had no access to my blog, email, Facebook, or Twitter! After the initial shock I got over it because I had finally arrived!

SharkLab: My home and office for six weeks.
I was picked up by Dr. Guttridge and Dr. Gruber in an old pickup truck and we drove down a bumpy, unpaved road to the south end of South Bimini to SharkLab. I’m not sure what I imagined a world famous shark laboratory would look like, maybe something out of a James Bond film, but what I found was a single story building that contained everything I'd know for the next six weeks: dorm beds, a kitchen, a laboratory, and a gaggle of other sun-drenched volunteers. Stay tuned for my next blog where I describe the research and my volunteer activities!

Dr. Guttridge and Dr. Gruber greeted me at the airport.
Annie Anderson is the founder of Sharks Need Love. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Shark Sanctuary Enforcement is Taking Place

While the world celebrates CITES historic vote to list oceanic whitetips, hammerheads, porbeagles, and manta on Appendix II, the men and women in uniform charged with enforcing marine protections continue their mostly unheralded work to enforce the laws that protect our oceans. This week shark busts took place in Hawaii, home of the landmark shark fin trade ban that ignited shark conservation in 2010, and the Marshall Islands, home to a shark sanctuary four times the size of California.

Enforcement of the shark protection measures put in place in recent years is so important because many of the detractors, and to be truthful, many of our would be supporters, claim that enforcement is impossible. If islands states with limited budgets and capacity can implement these measures it proves this argument incorrect.

The Marshall Islands have vigorously defended their shark sanctuary since its creation in 2011. Last year they issued fines totally US$235,000.

From the Marianas Variety:
A Majuro-based long line fishing boat has had its fishing license suspended after it was caught with shark fins on board last week by a police boarding party.

The vessel, whose name was not immediately available, is flagged in the Federated States of Micronesia and fishes locally through the Marshall Islands Fishing Venture, which is operated by Hong Kong-based Luen Thai Fishing Venture. In addition to Majuro, Luen Thai manages long line fishing operations in Pohnpei and Palau that supply tuna for sashimi markets in Asia and the United States.

Ten bags of shark fins and some sharkskin were confiscated during a sub-regional maritime surveillance operation in which the Marshall Islands Sea Patrol and Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority participated, said MIMRA Director Glen Joseph on Wednesday.

Fisheries officials estimate that the confiscated fins involved killing between 40 and 50 sharks. A fisheries law bans shark finning in Marshall Islands waters and the presence of shark fins on board a vessel, even if they were caught in another country’s ocean jurisdiction.
The vessel’s license has been suspended pending the negotiation of a fine. Everything is expected to be wrapped today. I hope that the Marshall Islands confiscate the fins and burn them for the world to see.

In Hawaii, a crew member on a longline fishing vessel tried to sell a bag of unprocessed fins to a Chinese restaurant. He faces a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $1000 and jail time. I hope this story sheds light on the sharks being killed for their meat in Hawaii, despite the shark fin ban.


Angelo and Sue from Pew Charitable Trusts
All four shark and manta ray proposals were approved in plenary today.  Had we been more organized, we'd have some sort of statement, but we don't.  We'll work on it.  I'm guessing we don't yet comprehend the enormity of this shark victory.

Thank you to the thousands of people who participated in the Shark Stanley campaign and to the hundreds of you who sent last minute emails directly to delegates.  It was an honor and a privilege to bring your voice and vote to CITES this year.

Oceanic whitetip, hammerhead, and porbeagle sharks and both species of manta rays stand a chance now because CITES works.  And you did this.  Thank you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Arguments For and Against

Guest Blog
By Leah Meth

Today, on the last day of CITES CoP16 here in Bangkok, the shark and manta proposals will be first up this morning in the final plenary meeting. We’ll be livetweeting the whole time so that you can follow the discussion play by play. In the meantime, we thought it would be useful to put together a quick summary of the main arguments and questions that have been raised that will likely come up again today and the responses we’ve heard that debunk or address these claims:

1) CITES is the wrong forum for regulating international trade.  Iceland, Japan and China argued in their interventions that management of sharks should be the responsibility of RFMOs.

2) Tied to this argument is the claim that there isn’t enough data to adopt these proposals.

Brazil, New Zealand and the US countered this point in their interventions, arguing that CITES would complement RFMOs. First, Appendix II listing would create a better record of trade and key data on stocks, which is required to ensure the sustainability of the fisheries in question. As NZ said, “Basically all oceanic sharks are data deficient…and RFMOs need to better monitor and regulate catches…CITES listing will aid in this, not detract.”

All three parties went on to say that far from being superfluous, CITES would fill a key gap, since RFMOs fail to cover the entire range of these shark and ray species. “This is a global problem that requires a worldwide solution.” CITES is a key part of that solution.

Several arguments then centered on questions of implementation:

3) “[Fin] Identification will be too difficult”

This argument came up repeatedly by Japan and China in Committee I, despite the fact that this has been thoroughly disproven with much thanks to Dr. Demian Chapman and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

4) We need more capacity to implement the proposals.

Several developing countries, including supporters, voiced the importance of focusing on implementation of these listings. As a delegate from Senegal said in an NGO meeting Tuesday, “While we are very happy with the outcome thus far, and happy with the organization of and process leading up to the CoP, we should note that we’ve won the battle, but the hardest, most difficult work is still ahead of us.” One of the members of the Jordan delegation concurred: “We are obligated to implement these decisions. Listing is one thing. Implementation is another… We need NGOs and concerned parties to think about ways to bring concerned parties and agencies together to do the capacity building and awareness programs.” Though implementation will be a major challenge, encouraging steps have been made.

Aid in capacity building has been offered on several levels:

Financial promises have come from developed nations. The EU has pledged 1.2 million euros to the CITES secretariat to be used to implement marine listings in developing countries. New Zealand also stepped up, saying that “Implementation issues can be overcome…financial and technical capacity will be provided for countries that need it.”

Developing nations have also offered support, with Colombia and Brazil offering to support capacity building in Latin America as well as other regions. For example, Brazil has set dates for regional workshops.

NGOs such as the Pew Charitable Trusts also spoke in their intervention on recently launched projects focusing on training systems, fin, and gill raker identification guides for customs officials and capacity building programs.

Developing countries responded optimistically:

Nigeria: “18 months is enough to sort out implementation measures in party countries and we are pleased with assistance offered.”

Congo: “Passing these proposals will give the donor community necessary impetus to support implementation.”

Furthermore, as Luke Warwick of the Pew Charitable Trusts said in an interview on Wednesday, regional assessments and the sort of data needed to issue NDFs is already in place in many places and the enforcement side is in a good place. Additional support from co-sponsors and developed countries will help to create country-specific solutions.

5) Wealthy Western nations are bullying developing nations.

Warwick explained to the Shark Stanley team that in the Japanese media this week, the proposals are being framed as coercive efforts on the part of countries like the EU member states and the US that push developing nations into a difficult position.

This is simply not the case. As I wrote about in my last blog, these proposals and the results of Committee I are historic based on the record number of sponsoring countries, with strong support from developing nations, especially in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. As Warwick says, “the symbolic aspect of this is huge.” To have these calls for shark and manta protection emanating from these countries and regions themselves is extremely important. This is no longer the situation of earlier CITES CoPs where there was pressure from developed countries. Now, it is a matter of developing countries taking the lead with countries like the EU and US offering partnership, technical, and financial aid and capacity.

6) Local livelihoods will be affected.

Appendix II listing is not a trade ban and as Brazil said, “This proposal is not a prohibition,” arguing, along with the USA, Senegal, and Benin that small scale fisheries and local livelihoods will not be affected by this listing:

Benin: “Listing will not negatively affect our local communities, rather it will lead to a sustainable future for the fishery.”

Senegal: “Our generation has the obligation of rationally managing our resources sustainably for future generations. Listing Appendix II is now important for the management of shark species which have experienced disastrous decline.”

Furthermore, ecotourism and the conservation of these species offers lucrative alternative livelihoods to local people:

Maldives: “We are convinced that better alternatives can be found for shark fishermen on small islands…we banned shark and manta ray catches because they are worth more alive than dead.”

Guy Stevens of Manta Trust: Manta dive tourism brings in ~$140 million annually.

Australia: “People from all over the world come to dive with our sharks and mantas.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts has reports from Fiji and Palau with more information and robust evidence of the value of shark and manta ray ecotourism.

7) We’ll see “stockpiling” within the 18-month implementation period. 

This is an argument of pro-trade groups, which says that the demand for species will increase along with fishing effort in the 18 month period before these listings come into effect. However, arguably, sharks are already being taken out as rapidly as possible. For example, it would be a challenge to find oceanic whitetip sharks in large quantities.

In closing: of course, all of these arguments – especially those surrounding the inevitable challenges of implementation – are incredibly complex, however I hope this has provided a brief breakdown of what we expect to hear today if any of the shark proposals reopen in plenary. These proposals and the results from Committee I are incredibly strong on all fronts. Now, we just need to hope that science prevails over politics and that CITES delegates stand by their vote.

The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

This is it.  Tomorrow's the big day.
Guest Blog
by Leah Meth

The last few days here in Bangkok at CITES have been incredibly intense. The shark proposals came up first thing Monday morning, and after we [and our omnipresent giant Shark Stanleys] finished greeting delegates and headed into Committee I, we settled into what would be one of the most exceptional days of my life. It began with nerves, and an equal mix of surreptitious optimism and fear, but after the oceanic whitetip passed by a 68% majority after two hours of tense debate, we exhaled, with the rest of the day slowly escalating in momentum until the end, when, overwhelmed with elation, we saw all 4 proposals pass after the manta’s landslide victory.

This is an enormous win for sharks and rays. As Sue Lieberman, Director of International Policy at the Pew Environment Group, said, “This is a watershed moment…a great victory for conservation.” The result is historic and incredibly significant for several reasons. Importantly, it’s the first time that CITES delegates have voted to protect commercially valuable species of shark. And perhaps even more profound is the strength of the coalition that has rallied behind these proposals, with developing nations speaking strongly in the face of serious pressures from opposing countries. Latin America took the lead, with Honduras, Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico and Costa Rica co-sponsoring a record number of proposals for sharks and rays. Countries from the West African sub-region also demonstrated exceptional leadership and unity, delivering powerful interventions on the floor. Support also came from the Middle East from countries such as Egypt, Comoros, Jordan and Yemen. As Amie Brautigam of WCS said, “Whole regions are supporting sharks…This is a major milestone and this is what we should be celebrating as much as the results.”

However, it’s important to underscore that these are tentative decisions and we must remain vigilant. Nothing will be final until the final plenary meeting, which began Wednesday and will carry on this today. Sharks will be on the table early this morning. Again, I’m filled with optimistic, though nervous, anticipation. Though it’s seemed quiet around the booth and convention center, there is much going on just below the surface. Over the past few days, there has been talk of immense pressure from opposing countries such as Japan and China. As Mika Diop of the Senegal delegation and FAO expert panel said in a press conference on Tuesday, “The pressures have been very, very strong and in certain instances, there has been financial assistance, which has been presented as a quid pro quo. Offers have been refused by many parties. There are different types of pressure and some are more concrete than others.” Carl Safina, in yesterday’s HuffPo editorial spoke more bluntly, stating, “Japan always does this, bribing countries with aid packages or even individual delegates with cash.”

Yet despite this, many delegates and NGOs are confident that with the strength of the results from Committee I, the overwhelming scientific evidence behind the proposals and the immense dedication of supporting parties, the shark and manta proposals will pass. As Mamadou Diallo of WWF’s Senegal office said, “We have the opportunity to prove that CITES is a convention based on science that can achieve success despite political pressure.” Lieberman, echoed this sentiment in Committee, urging parties to adopt these proposals for both the sake of science-based decision-making and the very credibility of CITES itself.

Today, in just a few short hours, this will all play out in plenary, which we’ll be livetweeting play by play. Until then, we urge you to join us in telling your CITES delegate: #StandByYourVote to adopt the shark and manta ray proposals!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Stand By Your Vote

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On Monday, March 11, 2013, CITES Committee I approved protections for five species of shark and two species of manta ray. The results of Committee I will head to plenary and will be approved in about 48 hours. There is a chance that opposing countries will move to reopen the vote and possibly overturn these protections. Shark Defenders, Shark Savers, WildAid, and Manta Trust are working to keep this from happening, and we need your support. Please send an email to the delegates from the countries listed below asking them to stand by their vote. Clicking on the links will open an email message box addressed to the CITES delegate from that respective country with "Stand By Your Vote - Don't Reopen CITES Shark Vote" in the subject line. Please write a quick message (or not, the subject line is enough) and hit send. We need governments to know that the world wants shark protections*.

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Click on the name of your country to send an email to your representative to CITES**: 

***Thank you for your emails!  The last day of CITES has begun and the decision is now in the hands of the delegates.  Follow us on Twitter for live updates.

Thank you, Guy and Andrea

Putting watermarks on photos is annoying.  If you lift this, please link back to this blog!
Guy Stevens and Dr. Andrea Marshall are the two scientists responsible for much of the data that led to manta rays being approved by CITES Committee I.  Andrea attended the Convention of the Parties as a member of the Ecuadorian delegation; Guy as part of the Pew Charitable Trusts.  Both spent the week advocating with government delegates on the importance of passing the proposal.

Guy spent countless hours at the Pew booth conducting manta ray gill raker identification presentations with all interested delegates, something which proved critical to the supermajority passage.

The shark and manta rays now head to plenary where opposing countries, particularly China and Japan, will try to reopen the proposals to a vote.  Reopening requires 1/3 of countries present to vote in the affirmative.  The advocates who want to see these proposals confirmed are now asking governments to vote no to reopening the vote.  If the votes are reopened, we are asking governments to vote yes for protection.  We'll have more on how you can help in the upcoming hours.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Thank you, Shawn and Mary

In a room full of 2,000 government delegates and non-government advocates, there were only two people I wanted to photograph as the results of the manta ray vote were announced.  Shawn Heinrichs of Blue Sphere Media and Mary O'Mally of Shark Savers were the heart and soul behind the proposal to list the manta rays on CITES Appendix II, if not the shark proposals as well.  Sharks and manta rays went 4 for 4 today, an amazing accomplishment supported by 37 sponsoring government and hundreds, if not thousands of people.  Congratulations to all involved, and we're looking forward to keeping these protections from being overturned in plenary later this week.

All Shark and Manta Proposals Pass

The manta ray proposal passed, meaning all of the shark and manta ray proposals have been approved by Committee I.  On to plenary!

All Shark Proposals Pass Committee I

The proposals to protect Waqi Whitetip, Shark Stanley, and Pierre le Porbeagle have been approved by CITES Committee I.  There is a chance the votes will be overturned in plenary, but it is much easier to approve there after they have been approved in committee.  This is an excellent day in shark conservation, a complete turnaround of 2010.  Congrats to everyone involved and thank you for your continued support.  We're discussing the manta proposals now and we've got our fingers crossed for another positive outcome.

Shark Stanley Gets Protections!

Committee I of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora just approved protections for three species of hammerhead sharks.  Shark Stanley wins!!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you!

Shark Stanley Official Poster

It is lunchtime in Bangkok.  This morning oceanic whitetips received a positive vote of 92-42 with 8 abstentions in CITES Committee I.  This vote is not final because countries (i.e. most likely China or Japan) will surely try to overturn the vote when the convention returns to plenary.  In about 20 minutes we will return from lunch and resume the hammerhead discussion.  Shark Stanley is a hammerhead, of course.  Fins crossed for a positive outcome!

CITES Oceanic White Proposal Passes in Committee

After two hours of debate, the oceanic whitetip proposal passed by a vote of 92 to 42 with 8 countries abstaining.  The vote was taken by secret ballot as requested by Japan.  The discussion now moves on to hammerhead sharks.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Shark Stanley Has a Posse

We are busy preparing our communications materials for tomorrow's big shark vote at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  This will not be one of our memes, but it does feature Shark Stanley co-directors Angelo Villagomez, Onon Bayasgalan, and Leah Meth.  This is the team that coordinated 10,000 supporters from 135 countries.
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