Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Island Leaders Concerned With Federal Proposal to "Reduce Shark Biomass"

In 2011, conservationists, lawmakers, and students came together to protect sharks in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. The law bans the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins and was followed by a flood of shark conservation laws throughout the Pacific.

In a press statement released last week, the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) that advises the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council announced they would consider a proposal to "reduce the shark biomass either through a directed fishery for sharks or an indirect catch by pelagic longlining." Island leaders are concerned that this federal proposal conflicts with local concerns and culture. From the Saipan Tribune:
Proposed regional shark plan could defeat CNMI’s shark protection law
By Haidee V. Eugenio

A committee advising the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes this week in Honolulu to discuss, among other things, proposed shark management in the Marianas that includes “directed fishery for sharks” or “indirect catch,” which some advocates say seems to negatively impact the CNMI’s two-year-old law against possession, selling, trading or distributing shark fins.

The Scientific and Statistical Committee will meet in Honolulu, Hawaii from Oct. 16 to 18.

Former representative Diego Benavente, author of the shark protection bill that became CNMI Public Law 17-27, said yesterday that the CNMI government should voice out its concerns on the proposed shark management methods, specifically to “reduce shark biomass” as Wespac stated in a release last week.

“I hope that Hawaii, Guam and our other allies such as Palau and the Marshall Islands to come out and voice out their concerns about the proposals to manage sharks in the region,” Benavente told Saipan Tribune.

The CNMI law prohibits possession, selling, offering for sale, trading, or distributing shark fins in the CNMI. It, however, allows catching of sharks for subsistence or non-commercial purposes.

Wespac said last week that fishermen in the Marianas archipelago -- which includes the CNMI and Guam -- have complained for more than a decade about “shark depredation,” including taking of bait by sharks.

It also said one consideration for the depredation problem is to reduce the shark biomass either through a directed fishery for sharks or an indirect catch by pelagic longlining.

Benavente said while Wespac seems to be concerned about fishermen’s issues concerning sharks right now, there seems to be disregard about shark protection and overall marine ecosystem now and for generations to come.

“I am also a fisherman. We also fish in areas where there are sharks but we still manage to catch fish. I just can’t understand why Wespac would suggest that sharks need to be destroyed because of fishermen’s concerns but what about their role in the ecosystem. Are they suggesting destroying ocean resources because of current concerns?” said Benavente, a former speaker and former lieutenant governor.

Wespac said recommendations from the Scientific and Statistical Committee will be considered by the Council from Oct. 16 to 18, 2013.

Angelo Villagomez, with The Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C., said management decisions should be based sound science, not hearsay.

“There isn’t a scientific study in the tropical Pacific showing that shark populations are healthy and that shark fishing levels are sustainable. On the contrary, every study has shown declines,” he said when sought for comment.

He said sharks are good for tourism.

“Senator Pete Reyes recognized this back in 2007 when he passed some of the first protections for sharks in the eagle ray protection law. Diego Benavente strengthened those protections in 2011. These laws are giving depleted shark populations a chance to recover, which will be good for the marine environment, but also for the increasing number of divers who expect to see sharks and other large predators when they spend thousands of dollars to visit Saipan,” Villagomez said.

Villagomez also said a NOAA-funded study in Guam showed that the biomass of sharks was already four times lower than a similar area in Australia that was a known shark fishery.

He also said the three stock assessments done by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission show that oceanic whitetips, blue, and silky sharks are overfished and that overfishing is occurring. More information is available at http://www.wcpfc.int.

Villagomez also cited a study published by Shelley Clarke in 2012 shows that populations of blue, mako, oceanic whitetip, and silky sharks are declining. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01943.x/abstract).

“Only a few months ago, members of the CNMI Legislature joined the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures in calling for a Pacific-wide shark sanctuary. The WESPAC proposal appears in contradiction with what elected leaders from all of Micronesia, Hawaii, and American Samoa want,” Villagomez added.


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