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!


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