Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: Year of the Shark Defender

Thank you for helping Shark Stanley
The modern shark conservation movement began in September 2009 when the president of the Pacific island country of Palau declared the "world's first shark sanctuary."  Prior to that game changing announcement, much of the focus had been on finning.  Now the focus is on catch limits, prohibitions on endangered species, and shark sanctuaries.

Ten years from now we may look back on 2013 as the year that shark conservation turned a corner.  Most significantly, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) adopted the first protections for commercially exploited shark species.  The shark defenders, the global citizen activists who care about sharks, played a major role in this decision, as well as several other new policies protecting sharks.

In the first three months of the year, 10,000 shark defenders from 135 countries and territories supported our Shark Stanley campaign.  We asked you to take your photo with Shark Stanley and his friends Manta Reina, Waqi Whitetip, and Pierre Porbeagle, and to post those photos to social networks.  We took those photos to the CITES meeting in Bangkok, Thailand in March and shared them with the delegates representing the 178 member countries.  An editorial in the Japan Times after the decision was made to protect the sharks and manta rays called us "exuberant, fun, fierce and determined."  But only because we had your support.

To quote American Vice President Joe Biden, "This is a big fucking deal."  CITES listings matter because they have teeth.  If countries do not comply with the CITES requirements, in the worst case scenario they could lose the ability to trade in CITES species.  For example, as of this writing, Afghanistan has been banned from trading all CITES species.  If countries are unable to produce non-detriment findings to show that trade in hammerheads, oceanic whitetips, porbeagles, and mantas is sustainable, they will not be allowed to trade in those species.

The CITES secretariat has made the successful implementation of the shark listings on Appendix II a priority and have created a website dedicated to the new listings.  There are also a number of implementation workshops planned around the world.  Several have already taken place.

The Obama Administration announced in May they intend to preempt and thus overturn the shark fin trade bans enacted in 11 states and territories.  180,000 shark defenders signed petitions and wrote letters to oppose the rule proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Notable comments were received from governors, lawmakers, agency heads, scientists, and conservation organizations.

Most recently, the presidents of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the governors of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Yap issued a statement, “The shark fin trade bans were implemented with bipartisan support after considerable public feedback. The laws reflect the unique concerns and needs [of] our islands and our citizens."

It took two and a half years for NOAA to issue the proposed rule, and they could take just as long to publish the final rule.  We have received word that the federal government is reaching out to the state and territorial governments, but we have heard they are not looking to compromise.  This decision could be a major setback for global shark conservation if the trade bans are overturned, and in doing so the Obama Administration will anger a lot of people.

New Caledonia, a huge French territory in the South Pacific, announced in April they were creating a shark sanctuary, joining Palau, the Marshall Islands, the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Tokelau, Hawaii, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam in protecting sharks.

In the north tropical Pacific, Pohnpei and Yap, two of the four Federated States of Micronesia joined the State of Kosrae in passing comprehensive shark protections.  Chuuk State is expected to finalize their protections in early 2014 and the national government is expected to take up national protections soon, completing the already agreed to Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary.

In May, the oceanic whitetip became the world's most protected shark when the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission agreed to ban all fishing of this species.  Previously, oceanic whitetips had received protections from ICCAT in the Atlantic, WCPFC and IATTC in the Pacific, and CITES.

Silky sharks also received protections in the western central pacific ocean from the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission after scientific advice showed that the stocks were overfished and that overfishing was occurring.

Why read what we have to say when the New York Times does a much better job?  Josh Reichert, executive vice president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, penned an editorial today describing the dawn of "shark fin diplomacy."

In February,  President Xi Jinping issued instructions to all levels of the Chinese government that high-cost ingredients, including shark fins and specialties culled from other protected species, were not to be consumed at official meetings. 

Then, in September, came news from Hong Kong that the city government would ban shark fins from official functions there to “demonstrate its commitment to green living and sustainability.” Since 50 percent of the world’s annual trade in shark fins passes through Hong Kong, the move was highly encouraging.

The modern shark conservation movement is just getting started; we're not even five years old.  The new year will start with a string of shark sanctuary announcements in the Caribbean and Pacific, followed by the implementation of the CITES Appendix II listings in September.  2014 is also the Year of the Shark Movie, with a number of high profile independent films being released.  You should also expect more engagement with the private sector, both in terms of businesses who are shipping sharks and those who are selling them.

The post-modern shark conservation movement, if there is ever to be such a thing, will have to move into the countries where sharks are consumed such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, as well as the countries that are the major catchers of sharks including Spain, Fiji, Japan, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, and India.  Shark conservation in these countries is still in the "Stop Finning" phase.  They need to move towards catch limits, prohibitions, and sanctuaries if sharks are to have a chance.

As this happens, you should expect the current movement's fin fetish to dissipate.  Plenty of sharks are killed for shark & bake in the Caribbean, fish & chips in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, kamaboko in Japan, and grilled steaks nearly everywhere.  These sharks need to become a part of the overall shark conservation discussion.

Stay safe tonight. You are more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than be killed by a shark.

And thanks for another great year.  Here's to a great 2014!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bahamas assumes chairmanship of United Nations Shark Coalition

At the luncheon held for the formal handover of chairmanship of the United Nations Shark Coalition from Palau to The Bahamas on Tuesday, December 10, from left to right are: Ms Kimberley Lam, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of The Bahamas to the United Nations; Ms Sasha Dixon, Third Secretary, Permanent Mission of The Bahamas to the United Nations; His Excellency Dr. Elliston Rahming, Bahamas Ambassador to the United Nations and the OAS; His Excellency Stuart Beck, Ambassador of Oceans and Seas for the Republic of Palau; Mr. Aaron Koman, Counsellor, Republic of Palau Mission; Ms Joan Yang, Senior Officer for International Ocean Policy, Pew; Mr Craig Powell, Third Secretary, Permanent Mission of The Bahamas to the United Nations; and Ms. Imogen Zethoven, Director of Global Shark Conservation, Pew.
NEW YORK -- In a brief but impressive ceremony on Tuesday, December 10, 2013, The Bahamas assumed chairmanship of the United Nations Shark Coalition, which affords the country a leadership role on a global platform of international significance.

His Excellency Dr. Elliston Rahming, The Bahamas Ambassador to the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), accepted the chairmanship on behalf of The Bahamas as some 20 Ambassadors looked on.

This development is important for The Bahamas, considering that in July 2011 the then government banned shark fishing in all 240,000 miles of Bahamian waters.

His Excellency Dr. Elliston Rahming, Bahamas Ambassador to the United Nations and the OAS receives the United Nations Shark Coalition Chairmanship from His Excellency Stuart Beck, Ambassador of Oceans and Seas for the Republic of Palau
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, an entity which works to establish shark sanctuaries and which underwrites the costs of the coalition’s activities, shark diving provides some $78 million dollars to the Bahamian economy annually in tourism revenue. It has been estimated that a shark that is captured will yield up to $10,000 versus the $3 million that could be derived over that same shark’s lifetime if left in the ocean to be enjoyed and studied by divers and scientists.

A shark sanctuary is an area that forbids commercial fishing operations from catching sharks. The State of Palau created the first shark sanctuary in 2009, followed by the Republic of Maldives, Honduras, The Bahamas and Tokelau.

According to Wikipedia, every year, fishermen pull up close to 100 million sharks from the world’s oceans, and according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than half of the shark species face over exploitation or depletion. The search for shark fins drives the illegal hunting trade.

The International Journal of Conservation postulates that shark ecotourism (conservation) currently generates more than $314 million dollars per year world-wide and is expected to grow to $800 million dollars in 20 years.

Global shark fishing, on the other hand, yields $630 million dollars annually and is in decline.

In the Caribbean, shark tourism generates almost $124 million in tourism dollars annually supporting more than 5000 jobs.

The primary focus of the coalition is to encourage governments to create shark sanctuaries and to create an awareness of shark conservation as a major source of revenue.

The Bahamas will relinquish the chairmanship in December, 2014.

Written by Oswald Brown and published in Bahamas Weekly on December 17, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shark Products Available on Amazon.com

If our blog statistics are to be believed, most of the people reading this sentence are from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Germany, in that order.  Most shark conservation organizations focus their blame on the rising middle class in China, but did you that mako, dogfish, and thresher sharks are sold as fish & chips and filets?  And did you know that there are many products available to you that are made from shark?  A quick search of Amazon.com discovered these items:
Shark fin soup
Shark soup is clearly one of the drivers of shark mortality.  A 2006 study estimated that between 26-73 million sharks were killed each year to supply the shark fin trade in Hong Kong.  While shark fin soup is very popular in Asia, it is also available in your country.  It is served at your local Chinese restaurant, and you can have it delivered to your door.

Sharkskin Wasabi Grater
Do you like eating sushi?  The best wasabi graters are made with sharkskin.  Chances are your local restaurant is using something squeezed out of a tube, but you might want to check.

Squalene pills
Squalene pills are made from processed shark livers.  The makers claim they have some kind of health benefit.  Squalene can also be made from olives.  One wonders why you would use shark livers when you can use olives?

Squalane skin oil
Squalene is used to make squalane, which is used in cosmetics, especially in Japan.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Shark Culls and Twitter Gold

I was lying in bed watching tv when I sent this tweet. Apparently some people thought it was funny. Amazing the things the Internet decides go viral.

Australia and Hawaii are both considering shark culls after a string of grisly shark bites. Humans have extreme reactions to shark bites, and I was pointing out some things that are more likely to happen than being killed by a shark. It is tragic when a person dies from a shark bite, but this is thankfully extremely rare.
A group of shark bite victims calling themselves Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation have been advocating for shark protections for several years now and I think they are the best people to address issues like this. They were profiled on Facebook Stories a few months ago and recommend you read about them before making up your mind on shark culls.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2014: Year of the Shark Movie

Shark conservation has picked up steam in recent years. After some early successes, several of the large conservation organizations have started their own shark programs, new shark oriented campaigns have launched, and now some of the those success stories are being told in new movies set to release next year.

Of Shark and Man
Of Shark and Man uncovers the inspiring untold story of Shark Reef in Fiji, one of the greatest conservation successes of recent times, where a dead reef was brought back to life by the return of its sharks. The film follows David Diley as he investigates the story of the Reef's rebirth, its protection, Fiji's relationship with the shark as a God and explores the controversy raging around the subject of humans feeding sharks. We also see his own personal journey towards getting closer to these sharks than anyone has been before, but can he achieve his ultimate goal, an unprotected interaction with up to 100 giant Bulls? David Diley has been chronicling his metamorphosis from office worker to documentarian on his blog From the Office to the Ocean since 2010. The three teasers can be found here, here, and here.

"Of Shark and Man" - Teaser Trailer 1 from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

I met David in 2011, along with his crew Hamish and Hugh, during his month long shoot in Pacific Harbour, Fiji. I've been waiting for two years for this film to come out and it is now in the final stages of post production.

Extinction Soup
Extinction Soup follows documentary filmmaker Philip Waller on his quest for adventure as he sets out to tell the story of his larger-than-life friend and extreme sports legend, Jimmy Hall. The film quickly takes a surprise turn when Waller finds himself consumed with exposing to the world an environmental catastrophe in the making - the extinction of the oceans' shark population through the mass slaughter of these magnificent animals for their fins. Waller documents the efforts of conservationist Stefanie Brendl as she fights to educate lawmakers and help pass ground-breaking legislation that will curb the consumption of shark fin soup.

Peter Knights, Clayton Hee, Stefanie Brendl, and Shawn Heinrichs all appear in the trailer, a stellar bunch of shark conservationists.

FINdonesia highlights the fishing and processing aspect of both sharks and manta rays and looks at entities working with fishermen in ways that promote shark tourism and conservation. In this way creating a long term income to them as opposed to a one off sale value of the animal at the fish markets. In creating a viable model where the sharks become assets worth more alive than dead will allow the onset of shark conservation projects throughout the region.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Silky Sharks Protected

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The member countries of the WCPFC—which include Japan, the United States, the European Union, China, Chinese Taipei, and South Korea—agreed to ban fishing of the near-threatened silky shark, an oceanic species that has experienced dramatic declines in its numbers.

“Silky sharks are naturally vulnerable because, like many sharks, they grow slowly and produce few offspring,” said Luke Warwick, a shark policy specialist with Pew. “A stock assessment has shown that silky sharks are overfished and that overfishing of the species has been ongoing. The Commission still needs to set catch limits for all commercially exploited sharks, prohibit the retention of threatened species, and support national laws, such as sanctuaries, that offer greater prospect for population recovery.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tuna Poetry

Delegates to the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission were asked to describe how they felt the meeting was going, what they hoped to get out of the meeting, or to write a poem about WCPFC or the ocean.  There were about 300 responses; here are some of our favorites:

Beautiful Ocean
It should be full of fish
For that we work!

Very Frustrating
Tunas decline quickly but
Conservation stalls

Dream of sleep
And fish
Of sleep I wish
Ocean blue

My Pacific sea
Longlines, Tuna, Albacore
Your wealth, my future

There once was a juvenile bigeye named Jill
Who traversed the Pacific and wouldn’t stay still
In the nets of a “purse” was her ultimate fate
Where she ended up on a sashimi plate

Sunday, December 1, 2013

5 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Shark Finning

Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

For decades now, shark conservation messaging has gone something like this:
Shark finning is a cruel act where a shark’s fins are cut off and its body dumped in the sea. Often times sharks are still alive when they are dumped overboard. They cannot swim without their fins, so they either drown or are eaten. Fishermen invented finning because shark fins are so valuable, whereas the rest of the shark is not. Finning saves space to fill a boat’s hold with as many high value fins as possible. This practice has to stop! If we ban finning, we will save sharks.
Shark finning has been the focus of many shark conservation organizations and advocates, but the term is widely misused. Many people think that it is analogous to ‘whaling’ and that ‘shark finning’ means ‘shark fishing.’ It does not. Shark finning is where a shark’s fins are cut off and its body dumped in the sea.

The misuse of the phrase ‘shark finning’ has policy implications when advocates are working to pass laws more restrictive than finning bans, such as those that reduce fishing or restrict trade. Here are five facts about shark finning that advocates often get wrong:
1. Shark finning is already banned
Nearly every country and international fisheries management organization around the world banned finning years ago. Instead of ‘ban shark finning,’ we should be calling on governments to ‘enforce finning bans.’ There are two recognized types of finning bans. The more restrictive is usually referred to as ‘fins naturally attached,’ and as the name implies, it requires that sharks be landed with their fins still naturally attached to their bodies. The United States, Australia, Chile, and the entire EU, have implemented fins naturally attached, which is now considered the international standard. The less restrictive policy allows for shark fins to be removed at sea as long as the corresponding bodies are brought to port and the fins make up a predetermined percentage of the total weight, 5% in most places. There are a number of loopholes that fishermen have used to exploit the 5% rule, thus the move towards fins naturally attached.

2. Banning Shark Finning does not make it illegal to fish for shark fins
The United States banned shark finning more than a decade ago, but continues to be one of the top shark fishing countries. Banning finning does not make shark fins illegal, it makes the dumping of shark bodies at sea illegal.  This misunderstanding is widespread.  Last week, January Jones wrote, “Banning shark finning but allowing shark fins just doesn't make sense.” The only thing that does not make sense is January’s misunderstanding of shark policy.

3. Banning shark finning alone will not save sharks
Shark finning bans are designed to stop the cruel killing of sharks, not the killing of sharks. They do not regulate the shark fin fishery; they regulate how the less valuable parts of a shark are disposed. They also help with species-level identification and data gathering. Two recent studies have called into question the effectiveness of finning bans to reduce mortality. Population Trends in Pacific Oceanic Sharks and the Utility of Regulations on Shark Finning by Dr. Shelley Clarke et al, was published in Conservation Biology last year. Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks by Dr. Boris Worm et al, was published in Marine Policy earlier this year.

4. Ending finning is only a first step
There are several policy options that are much more effective for protecting sharks than shark finning bans. The science is still coming in, but catch limits and prohibitions may be improving a few shark populations around the world. More recently, shark fin trade bans and shark sanctuaries have restricted the supply of shark fins to the market. These policies would likely not have been put in place had finning not been banned first. Once finning is banned, there is still much work to be done to ensure healthy shark populations.

5. Repeated calls to ‘End Shark Finning’ confuse efforts to reduce fishing, curb trade, and decrease demand
The only campaign to end finning taking place today is in New Zealand, which allows finning to take place because the shark fishery has catch limits and prohibitions on endangered species. Unless a shark conservation advocate is working in New Zealand or calling on governments to 'enforce finning bans,' they have no reason to use the word finning. Finning is already banned in most of the world. It is confusing to ask to ‘stop shark finning’ when the policy change being sought is a reduction in fishing, trade, or demand.
The global shark conservation movement should be proud on what it has accomplished in a relatively short period of time.  Shark finning has been banned throughout most of the world, but these bans have proven to not be enough to restore threatened shark populations.  The discussion on finning needs to move away from policy change and into implementation and enforcement.  Meanwhile, more shark conservation advocates need to ask for policies that reduce fishing, curb trade, and decrease demand.

Alyssa Sablan is a shark advocate in Guam.  Want to know more about shark finning?  Read Alyssa's previous blogs here and here.

10 Year Vision for WCPFC

The Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission is meeting in Cairns, Australia this week to discuss among other issues, prohibiting the retention of silky sharks and banning gear used to target sharks. This is the second year WCPFC will consider the bycatch measure put forth by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). The silky shark proposal is being considered for the first time.

The FFA bycatch proposal is going to be controversial because the United States will oppose restricting the use of wire leaders and several of the Asian fishing countries will oppose requiring that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached. The science behind the silky shark proposal is not controversial; The stocks are overfished and overfishing is still occurring. The politics, however, will be a completely different story.

Even if both proposals pass, which is unlikely, they will not ensure sustainable long term shark populations. Much more work is needed. Here are our suggestions. Please retweet if you agree.

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