Friday, September 27, 2013

Humane Society: Federal law is harming efforts to ban the sale of shark fins

Published in the Washington Post on Friday, September 26, 3013.

The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 was designed as a statutory shield to protect the world’s troubled shark populations. Any sensible person would deduce this.

Few could have anticipated, however, that the National Marine Fisheries Service would pervert the act and use it as a regulatory spear against millions of sharks, against conservation and against common sense.

Apparently for the benefit of a few noisy interests, the fisheries service has proposed a rule to implement the legislation in a way that would preempt state and territory laws prohibiting the sale of shark fins — an ingredient in a few insipid and ecologically disastrous products such as shark fin soup. The federal government does not regulate such sales activity — nor does it intend to — so the rule would effectively nullify state laws that would reduce demand for shark fin products in this country.

My head spins.

Millions of Americans understand two important facts:

First, apex predators, including sharks, are vital to maintaining the balance and health of the world’s oceans and our coastal ecosystems. There is no credible argument to the contrary.

Second, world populations of sharks are in precipitous decline. One-third of the 468 species are in danger of extinction.

Why are shark populations in such deep trouble? Soup is one of the big reasons, as well as the cause of unbelievable suffering. A shark is caught in the open ocean, its fins are sliced off and the suffering animal is thrown, alive, back into the water. Here is what 11-year-old Sawyer Chandler of Texas says about the process on her anti-finning Web site:

“Imagine, sinking deeper and deeper into the sea just waiting to be eaten, bleed to death, or hit the very bottom and not have water flowing through your gills and drown. Is that ok?”

No, it is not.

The National Marine Fisheries Service can’t really believe that nullifying state laws to stop this sort of wanton cruelty is acceptable.

Eight states have banned the sale of shark fins: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Washington. (So, far, 914 state legislators have voted in favor of the fin bans and only 87 against.) The same policy is in place in all three U.S. Pacific territories: American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. Moreover, in recognition of the plight of sharks and the wastefulness of finning, the practice is prohibited in state and federal offshore waters.

Together, these measures save the lives of countless sharks. The United States is second only to Asia as an importer of shark fins. Almost 90 percent of the fins that enter this country come through dealers in Hong Kong, where fins from finned sharks, illegal fisheries and endangered shark species are laundered.

Bolder action is needed. Other large states, including Florida and Texas, should lead by enacting prohibitions similar to those in California, Illinois and New York.

And the Obama administration needs to immediately change course and use the Shark Conservation Act as Congress intended: to complement state and territory laws, not to kill them off. The Justice Department, at the request of the fisheries service, recently weighed in against state laws in a pending court case involving California’s landmark ban. If ever there were a tone-deaf case of federal overreaching, this is it.

About the only argument on behalf of finning, thin as thin can be, is that it has cultural roots in Asian weddings and other celebratory occasions and therefore should be allowed to continue. It is notable that California’s shark fin ban was co-authored by Paul Fong, a Chinese American member of the state assembly from Cupertino. The New York law was sponsored by Grace Meng when she was a representative from Queens. She, too, is of Chinese descent.

The fact is, prohibitions on shark finning have broad support among people of all ethnicities and nationalities — and it’s time for new traditions when it comes to human dealings with sharks. If we have our wits about us, we should leave their fins intact.

Wayne Pacelle is president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States. He blogs at humanesociety.org/waynepacelle.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Shark Cat Song


Stop what you are doing and watch this.

Ending Illegal Fishing


Illegal fishing, also called pirate fishing, occurs on an industrial scale and has global consequences. Outlaw vessels deplete fish stocks, harming communities that rely on fish for food and economic security. Illegal fishing also threatens fragile marine ecosystems. Illegal operators employ a variety of techniques to avoid detection while bending and breaking regulations. To end illegal fishing, we need a global requirement that fishing vessels have unique identification numbers (known as IMO numbers); ratification of the United Nations' Port State Measures Agreement; and improved information sharing among national law enforcement agencies. Each of these components will improve monitoring and enforcement of fisheries crimes.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Shark Conservation Act Rule Notable Comments

Thanks for your support!
The deadline to submit comments on the proposed rule that could overturn 11 state and territorial shark fin trade bans passed on July 31, 2013.  All of your comments are posted on the Federal Register.  Our favorite comments from prominent leaders in shark conservation are posted below.  Thank you for your support and we look forward to a positive outcome.
Ten U.S. senators led by Senator Maria Cantwell wrote, “There are a growing number of state and territorial statutes that are designed to address shark finning by reducing demand for shark fin products. These statutes are not a conflict of interest, and are well within the jurisdiction and authority of the States to regulate.”

Sixty two members of the U.S. House of Representatives led by Representative Jared Huffman and Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, sponsor of the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, wrote, “If we are to address the problem of shark finning head on, we must allow state and territorial statutes to complement the federal regulations and further the U.S. leadership in global shark conservation.”

Governor Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii issued a statement, “We must preserve the strong position the Hawaii State Legislature took in May 2010 when Hawaii become the first state in the nation to make it illegal to possess, sell or distribute shark fins in the state. This model legislation symbolizes Hawaii’s concern for the welfare of all creatures. We oppose federal pre-emption of the Hawaii law. Our law is working as intended. We have educated fishers and restaurants, and they are complying.”

Governor Iloy Inos of the Northern Mariana Islands wrote, “The Northern Mariana Islands enacted CNMI Public Law 17-27 after considerable public debate and input in an effort to ban the possession, sale, and trade of shark fins. Careful research, public input, and legal review went into making sure that our law met the unique needs of our jurisdiction.”

The Association of Pacific Island Legislatures (APIL) passed a resolution “Calling on Pacific Island nations to support the creation of a Pacific Islands Regional Shark Sanctuary and opposing the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposal to undermine the progress in shark conservation made by Pacific Island jurisdictions.” APIL is made up of 12 states, territories, and countries in the western and central Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa.

Senator Clayton Hee, sponsor of Hawaii law, wrote, “Hawai’I was the first state to enact legislation prohibiting the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins and shark fin products. While we understand that the Service is issuing this proposed rule in an effort to implement the Shark Conservation Act, as a sponsor of the Hawai’I law, I am very concerned with the agency’s statements as to preemption of state shark fin laws.”

30 senators and assemblymembers of the California Legislature led by Assemblymember Paul Fong, sponsor of the California law, wrote, “The enactment of California’s law is significant. The majority of the processed shark fin imports, as opposed to domestic shark landings, enter the U.S. through California. The U.S. is the largest market for processed shark fins and fin products outside of Asia, and the biggest market within the U.S. is in California.”

Vice Speaker BJ Cruz, sponsor of Guam law, wrote, “The intent of the Shark Conservation act of 2010 is to protect sharks. Any rules to implement the federal law that result in overturning more restrictive state or territorial laws could put already stressed shark populations at additional risk.”

Representative Diego Benavente, sponsor of the Northern Mariana Islands law, wrote, “State bills, territory bills, and statutes that address their markets for shark fins play an important role in global shark conservation. Therefore, states and territories should have the prerogative to close off their markets to the cruel practice (of shark overfishing).”

13 members of the Hawaii House of Representatives led by Representative Jessica Woolly, wrote, “Hawaii is proud to be a global shark conservation leader. We strongly urge NOAA not to adopt an unprecedented and strained interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to suggest that there can be no regulation of any sale of fish products just because some of the fish from which the products were obtained were lawfully caught in U.S. water, which is an interpretation that will only undermine the shark protection goals of federal Shark Conservation Act on which the proposed rule is based.”

14 senators and delegates of the Maryland Legislature led by Delegate Eric Luedtke and Senator Brian Frosh, sponsors of the Maryland law, wrote, “Maryland is well within its Constitutional rights to enact legislation of this kind. Maryland should be permitted to restrict the sale of shark fins.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum wrote, “There is no literal inconsistency between Oregon’s law and the proposed rule implementing the SCA. The proposed NMFS rule regulates shark finning at sea in the EEZ, which is a fisheries practice. The Oregon shark fin statutes prohibit any shark fins (other than those of the spiny dogfish) from being possessed, sold, trade or distributed in Oregon unless authorized by a permit. Compliance with both laws simultaneously is achievable. Thus, there is no inconsistency between the terms of the proposed NMFS rule and Oregon’s shark fin statutes.”

Chairperson William J. Aila, Jr. of the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources wrote, “Hawaii law is specifically directed at the practice of shark finning. Current law does not prohibit the harvest and trade in shark meat for food. From the State’s perspective, Hawaii law addresses the practice of shark finning and allows for the sale of harvested sharks. In these two respects, Hawaii law is consistent with the SCA.”

Director Charlton H. Bonham of the State of California Department of Fish and Wildlife wrote, “Our Department believes the language in this notice creates an opportunity for collaborative dialogue on fisheries management to define how to implement the state and federal conservation laws in a harmonized way. Compliance with the California law enacted in 2011 would have no effect on compliance with these federal regulations, which predominantly regulate difference activities.”

Deputy Bureau Chief Monica Wagner of the State of New York Office of the Attorney General Environmental Protection Bureau wrote, “New York is concerned that addressing preemption as NMFS does unnecessarily prejudges that question without the benefit of the concrete factual setting that a state law enforcement proceeding would provide. In the absence of some compelling reason – which NMFS has not identified – for the rule and preamble to discuss preemption, we believe that the relationship between the federal government and the States would be better and more respectfully served by removing any discussion of preemption from the rule and preamble.”

State of Oregon Office of Governor John Kitzhaber Natural Resources Policy Advisor Gabriela Goldfarb wrote, “We believe that Oregon’s law meets MSA purposes and objectives, including promoting commercial fishing under sound conservation and management principles, and that it is not preempted by the proposed rule.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts, Humane Society of the United States, Oceana, and 30 other concerned organizations wrote, “States and territories should not be forced to permit the operation of in-state markets for detached fins and fin products that conflict with the values of their citizenry and their legitimate state interests, and disregard the results of lengthy, democratic and transparent legislative processes.”

Thirty scientists including Boris Worm, Ph.D., Barbara A. Block, Ph.D, and Samuel H. Gruber, Ph.D. wrote, “As marine biologists and shark experts we know first-hand the plight of sharks world-wide. While the SCA plays an important role in shark conservation by addressing the landing and possession of sharks and shark fins caught in U.S. waters, we scientists recognize this is not enough.”

Nick Silverstein, an 8-year-old shark activist in New York City wrote, “Please do not overturn the state and territory laws protecting sharks. The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 was passed to protect sharks from humans. Please keep it that way.

Twelve Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation including Debbie Salamone wrote, “As shark attack survivors, we are uniquely qualified and feel a personal responsibility to speak up for these animals. We want our tragedies to result in a greater good. And we ask that our government stand behind us and do what’s right for shark conservation.” 

The Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA), an international organization with more than 1,300 members that is dedicated to the promotion and growth of the recreational scuba diving and snorkeling industry, wrote, “DEMA supports the ability of states to determine their own regulations with regard to the possession, landing, transfer or sale of sharks or shark fins regardless of the point of harvest. While we applaud the federal government's attempt to prohibit the practice of ‘shark finning,’ we do not believe it is appropriate for the federal government to preempt choice and extent of the state's regulation.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund and TRAFFIC North America, “The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 (SCA), which amended the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), to close loopholes in the ratio ban by mandating that sharks must be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies… was a significant achievement in providing strong conservation measures for sharks…. In order to continue this strong leadership and address the conservation problems associated with shark-finning, states and territories should be allowed to complement the federal ban on finning in U.S. waters.”

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals wrote, “U.S. states and territories are increasingly recognizing the importance of decreasing consumer demand as a means to improving global shark conservation. California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Illinois, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Marianna Islands, and, most recently, Maryland, Delaware, and New York, have all passed laws prohibiting the possession, sale, offering for sale, or distribution of shark fins. These laws have been backed by a wide coalition of environmental, shark conservation, and animal welfare organizations, including the ASPCA. If states are unable to cut off the market for fins, our nation’s role in global shark conservation efforts will be severely compromised.”

Adopt A Bull Shark -- 6 Days Left!

How many bull sharks can you fit into one frame?
Our friends at WildAid Shark Savers are raising money on Indiegogo to support their global efforts to protect sharks, engage communities, and collect important science data.  We've worked with this team over the years on shark conservation successes in the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, CITES, and most recently in defending the 11 state and territorial shark fin trade bans from being preempted by the Obama Administration.  Here is some information from their page and the link:
Summary: Adopt-A-Bull Shark Initiative

Conservation efforts such as ‘citizen science’ are an important part of positively engaging the public and increasing our understanding of sharks, both ecologically and economically. When you ADOPT A BULL SHARK, your generous, tax-deductible, donation helps fund ‘citizen science for sharks’ all over the world, including Fiji, Ecuador, Peru, and Indonesia; and supports the application of those efforts to local and international conservation actions.

Why is this important? Many shark populations are declining worldwide often due to the demands from the international shark fin trade, as well as by-catch pressures from other fisheries. The reproduction rates of many large sharks make it difficult for their populations to rebound from such impacts. Depletion of apex predators can adversely impact our ocean ecosystems yet the perception of ‘shifting baselines’ can mask these depletions. Long-time divers often report seeing far fewer sharks today than when they first starting diving, decades ago. Please help support our work to empower divers to document their valuable shark sightings; ADOPT A BULL SHARK today!
Indiegogo is a great platform because it allows supporters to give as little as just a few dollars.  So, if you don't mind sparing that cup of coffee, please consider making a small -- or large -- donation to the great work of this organization.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

ACTION ALERT: Protect Florida's Lemon Sharks

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The well-documented lemon shark aggregation that occurs during the months of January to April/May off the coast of Jupiter, Florida, is in trouble. NOAA implemented a rule changing the opening date of the 2013 Atlantic Shark Commercial Fishing Season from July 1st to January 1st, putting the lemon sharks at a potentially high risk of overexploitation because the earlier opening date coincides with when the breeding-aged lemon sharks congregate in a relatively small geographical area. The aggregation is highly publicized and therefore may have been actively targeted and heavily fished in early 2013 because they are easy targets while in such a large group in a predictable location. Data suggests that the lemon shark population that makes up the aggregation is already experiencing severe declines in numbers in recent years and the changing of the opening dates has raised very serious concerns among the scientists of the Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS), NGO’s, divers and the diving industry and concerned citizens. NOAA has again proposed to open the 2014 Atlantic Shark Commercial Fishing Season on January 1. We now have the opportunity to comment on this proposed rule, raising our concerns on its impact on the lemon shark aggregation. The request for comment was listed in the Federal Register Vol. 78, No. 164 (document identified as NOAA-NMFS-2013-0112), which is attached.

It is very important for the public to submit constructive comments and we hope that all concerned individuals and groups take a moment to speak up for our lemon sharks! Comments MUST BE SUBMITTED BY SEPTEMBER 23, 2013 to be considered so time is of the essence!!!

The process to comment is simple and the steps for electronic submission are:
Step 1: Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0112
Step 2: Click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon
Step 3: Complete the required fields and enter or attach your comments.

*Please remember that all comments received are a part of the public record, all personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.*

The Proposed Rule Document states that the “seasonal variation of the different species/management groups” was examined and that “the proposed opening date of January 1 would allow fishermen to harvest some of the 2014 quota at the beginning of the year, when sharks are more prevalent in the South Atlantic area.” It has been brought to our attention that fishermen are speaking up AGAINST the January 1st opening date because of the ‘uneven’ distribution of targeted shark species so for the first time we are asking for the same thing! Therefore, we urge you to submit fact-based constructive comments and we have provided some talking points below:
  • We oppose the proposed rule that the 2014 Atlantic Shark Commercial Fishing Season open on January 1 based on its negative effect on the regional lemon shark aggregation off the coast of Jupiter, Florida. To relieve fishing pressure on a vulnerable population, we recommend the fishing season open on the July 1 date, when the seasonal distribution of lemon sharks is not as concentrated.
  • Although the opening season criteria used by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) includes “variation in seasonal distribution, abundance, or migratory patterns of the different species or management groups based on scientific and fishery information” we are concerned that significant negative effect that this opening date could have on the well-documented aggregation has not been considered or adequately addressed.
  • Lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) are biologically vulnerable to overfishing considering their conservative life history strategy
  • Lemon sharks demonstrate specific behavioral ecology resulting in a predictable annual aggregation. The aggregation is well-documented and highly publicized among the public. This characteristic means that the sharks, during this season, are extremely vulnerable to being easily targeted to quickly fill quotas because of the density of the aggregation.
  • This specific aggregation of lemon sharks is extremely valuable to the regional SCUBA diving industry that markets the natural aggregation for recreational dives. This aggregation has gained wide attention and is considered one of the best opportunities to dive, view, and photograph sharks in their natural environment. The socioeconomic benefit of the aggregation is significant to this region of Florida’s economy. The declines that are already underway have been reflected in anecdotal evidence by the recreational diving community. Diving professionals who have witnessed the aggregation first-hand for several years have reported much smaller numbers of lemon sharks or difficulty in finding the aggregation at all.
  • Regulatory measures implemented in 2006 to protect sandbar sharks have increased pressures on other large coastal species, including lemon sharks. The current data suggest the population of aggregating lemon sharks is experiencing declines. On average, there has been a 10-15% decline in redetection rates per year since 2007, indicating harvest rates are too high for the population to ever recover, even under maximum recovery rates for this species.

Biological research conducted by the Bimini Biological Field Station (http://www6.miami.edu/sharklab/), directed by Dr. Steven Kessel and Dr. Samuel Gruber since 2007 has revealed that adult lemon sharks ranging from Georgia and the Carolinas through the Florida Keys and out to the Bahamas aggregate on the coastal shelf off Jupiter, Florida during the months of January to April before returning to their northern summer home ranges. From this study, researchers report an alarming declining in recapture rates since early in 2010, averaging 10-15% decline per year since 2007, indicating that the harvest rates are too high for the population to recover even under maximum recovery rates for this species.
For any questions about this ACTION ALERT, please contact: Hannah Medd
hannahmedd21@hotmail.com

Dr. Samuel Gruber
sgruber@rsmas.miami.edu

Illegal Fishing Roundup III

INTERPOL is after “the Snake,” a notorious illegal fishing vessel
Worldwide – September 9, 2013 – Smithsonian Magazine INTERPOL has issued its first Purple Notice – an information gathering tool that’s been used previously in pursuit of criminals like illegal loggers or child pornographers – for illegal fishing. INTERPOL is after a rouge fishing vessel called “the Snake.” The Snake is owned by a Panamanian company, but has undergone at least 12 name changes and flown the flags of 8 different States.
Read the Purple Notice
See also: Pirate Vessel Wanted for Illegal Fishing

Coast Guard seizes Mexican lancha with 300 illegal fish
Texas, United States – September 6, 2013 – valleymorningstar.com The Coast Guard seized a vessel and arrested four morning nationals, who were fishing illegally in U.S. waters. The fishermen had 272 red snapper, four mackerel and 21 black-tip shark. The U.S Coast Guard has seized 7 similar vessels since August 1st.

Japan’s Bluefin tuna trading prices fall as Tsukiji buyers pass on excessive, juvenile catches
Japan – September 10, 2013 – seafoodnews.com Populations of Bluefin tuna capable of spawning have been falling since the mid-1990s in the North Pacific Ocean, which includes Japanese coastal waters, and is estimated to be at a record low.

Spain Improves its Control over Illegal Fishing
Spain – September 11, 2013 – thefishsite.com The Secretary General of Fisheries, Carlos Dominguez, has stated that in relation to the fight against illegal fishing, Spain now has better control over fish imports in the European market.

Proposal to Protect Antarctic Waters is Scaled Back
Paris – September 10, 2013 – nytimes.com A joint proposal by the United States and New Zealand to create a huge ocean reserve in Antarctic waters has been sharply reduced after opposition from Russia and other nations with large fishing industries. New Zealand and the U.S. are now proposing an area about 40% smaller.

Illegal fishing rap readied vs official
Philippines – September 8, 2013 – sunstar.com.ph Police in the municipality of Labason, Zamboanga del Norte, are reading to file charges against a village official for illegal fishing.

US set to crush $12m ivory seized by agents
United States – September 11, 2013 – bdlive.co.za
The U.S. is going to destroy its six-ton stockpile of elephant ivory, collected over the last 25 years by seizure or being abandoned to U.S. agents, in an effort to combat wildlife trafficking. The government is using the event to publicize the illegal trade that threatens wild elephants, rhino, great apes and other iconic species. Wildlife trafficking has doubled since 2007 and is the fourth-largest transnational crime in the world.

First Chinese merchant ship crosses Arctic route to Rotterdam; spurs north Asian interest in Arctic
China – September 11, 2013 – seafoodnews.com A Chinese merchant vessel is expected to reach Rotterdam on Wednesday. If so, it will be the first Chinese merchant ship to travel to Europe via the Arctic Northeast Passage. The trip is about 2,936 nautical miles and is scheduled to take 30 days.
Update - http://gcaptain.com/port-of-rotterdam-sees-arrival-of-first-ship-via-northern-sea-route/

Indonesia’s Vigo consul urges EU investors to give its tuna industry a second look Spain – September 11, 2013 – undercurrentnews.com Carlos Fernandez, the soon-to-be-appointed Indonesian consul to Vigo, is on a mission to change the widespread perception of Indonesia’s government’s refusal to reign in what has been described as one of the most unruly, disruptive tuna industries. Coverage of the VI Worldwide Tuna Conference is available at undercurrentnews.com 

Hong Kong, World’s Shark Fin Hub, Sees Huge Drop in Infamous Trade
Hong Kong – September 9, 2013 – Time.com Hong Kong, which received roughly half of the world’s shark fin harvest last year, has seen a 30% drop in imports as a long-running environmental campaign begins to bite.
Read more: http://science.time.com/2013/09/09/hong-kong-worlds-shark-fin-hub-sees-huge-drop-in-infamous-trade/#ixzz2ehpsTkza

Italy Seizes ‘Mother Ship’ Smuggling Syrian Refugees
Italy – September 12, 2013 – maritime-executive.com Italian authorities have seized a ‘mother ship’ used to traffic illegal migrants across the Mediterranean, picking up about 200 Syrians fleeing the civil war in their homeland.

Costa Concordia Parbuckling Likely to Begin on Monday
Italy – September 11, 2013 – maritime-executive.com Parbucking on the Costa Concordia is scheduled to begin next week, meaning the ship could be upright for the first time in nearly two years.

Second drugs ship torched
September 11, 2013 – tradewindsnews.com
A general cargo ship crew set fire to their vessel off France as a warship closed in on them during a drugs bust, the second such incident in the Mediterranean in a matter of days. Customs official later confirmed the presence of cannabis on board.

Fisheries: Parliament wants stricter rules to save eels
Europe – September 12, 2013 –europolitics.info The European Parliament stated in a resolution that new legislation is crucial to save the European eel stock which, according to scientific reports, has decreased more than 95% over the last 30 years. MEPs called on the European Commission to present a proposal by March 2014.

Portuguese official says Spanish boats fishing illegally off Savage islands
Portugal – September 11, 2013 – Diario de Noticias The director of Madiera Natural Park has said that Spanish boats had been identified fishing around Savage Islands, territory of Portugal, although nothing had come of it.

Capacity Building a key in counter piracy
United Arab Emirates – September 10, 2013 – khaleejtimes.com UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan has said that improving the capacities of the navies and coast guards of Somalia and its neighbors will not only diminish piracy attacks, but will help the region in facing other challenges, such as illegal fishing.

Sargasso Sea Alliance Honored with Esteemed 2013 International SeaKeepers Award
September 11, 2013 – The Daily Catch
The executive committee of the Sargasso Sea Alliance has been named “2013 International SeaKeepers of the Year” by the International SeaKeepers Society.

Fishing Ranked Australia’s riskiest job
Australia - September 12, 2013 – news.ninemsn.com

Anti-piracy vessels for Mozambique will help South Africa
South Africa – September 10, 2013 – thepost.co.za Mozambique has signed a deal with a French shipyard to buy six patrol and interceptor ships for its navy and a fleet of fishing boats.

Thirteen engaged in illegal fishing arrested
Sri Lanka – September 9, 2013 – dailynews.lk The navy of Sri Lanka arrested 13 persons engaged in illegal fishing activities in two separate raids since September 1st.

Creation of permanent fisheries body pushed as new tuna management regime looms in the Pacific
Philippines – September 6, 2013 – mindanews.com The creation of a permanent body to represent the country in Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) is being called for by government and industry executives in the Philippines.

Ecuador: US duties will cost industry $60 million in losses
Ecuador – September 12, 2013 – intrafish.com Shrimp industry officials from Ecuador say that a new 11.68% countervailing duty on sales to the United States will lead to about $60 million in losses. They are considering taking their complaint to the World Trade Organization.
See also: $177 million hit to Ecuador shrimp producers result of mistake
And see: There is a change the ITC may vote down shrimp tariffs on Sept. 17th (news analysis)

Russia – September 12, 2013 – fis.com">Committee appeals to end Chinese and Korean illegal fishing activities
The State Duma committee on natural resources, nature management and ecology has made an appeal to the Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, the Federal Security Service (FSB), to end illegal activities of both Korean and Chinese firms in Russian waters.

Japanese fish imports banned amid concerns over radioactivity
South Korea – September 9, 2013 – fis.com Japanese fish imports from eight of its prefectures have been subjected to a new ban by South Korea government out of concerns that they can be contaminated as a result of radioactive water leaks from Fukushima nuclear plant.

From Cat Food to Sushi Counter: The Strange Rise of the Bluefin Tuna
September 11, 2013 – Smithsonian Magazine

Blobfish voted ugliest animal
United Kingdom – September 13, 2015 – fis.com

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fiji Times: Slaughter for Fijian Plates

The Fiji Times published an indepth story today describing how local Fijians purchase shark carcasses for resale in Suva's fish markets.
HUNG shamelessly from a tree by the roadside for all to see, the two young men separated skin from flesh and chopped up the prized catch into big chunks.

The fins, tails, and heads of the five mako sharks had been removed at the first point of contact — on the high seas on board tuna fishing boats inside Fiji's Exclusive Economic Zone.

They didn't care about what some of those passing said about their being part of the shark product industry that's taking a heavy toll on our shark population and the marine ecosystem.

Soon their pockets would be filled.

The two men — who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation by those who advocate for shark protection — have been dealing in shark meat for some time.

To them, shark meat is easy money. They don't need a boat to go out and fish. They just wait at the wharf.

When the Chinese fishing boats sail into the harbour, the buyers of finned sharks lined up for what are mostly mako. At $10 each at whatever size, they transport them out of the city to "process", which involve skinning the thick hide of the sharks and chopping them into blocks that fill white plastic bags.

"It's good money for us. We buy at $10 each and can make up to $70 from a mako shark if it's a good day. Life's hard in Suva. We left the island to come here for a better life and this has provided us with a good opportunity."
These prices are in Fijian dollars.  At today's exchange rate, $10 Fijian is about US$5.38.  Opponents of shark conservation will point out that locals are able to make some money and communities are gaining a source of cheap protein.  However, Fijian's are still getting the short end of this deal when you consider the retail value of the fins.

Shark tourism in Fiji is worth US$42.2 million, or about F$75 million.  Sharks are worth much more alive.

Fake Shark Week Facts: A Recollection

It's been a month since Discovery Channel's Shark Week ended and we wanted to thank all of you who posted #FakeSharkWeekFacts to Twitter. Here are some of our favorites.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How Many Sharks Are Killed Each Year?

Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

Ever wonder how many sharks are really killed each year globally or how these estimates are calculated?  And do you ever wonder who is behind these estimates?  It all seems very confusing and at times contradictory.

Media reports about the recent announcement by the Hong Kong government to ban shark fin soup at government functions includes this interesting little fact: More than 70 million sharks are killed every year, according to environmental group WWF.  At other times, in other outlets, the number of sharks killed annually is estimated to be 26, 38, 63, 73, 97, 100, 200, 273, or simply, tens of millions.  A myriad of organizations are credited with supplying this data, from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, CITES, NOAA, WildAid, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

There are only two peer-reviewed scientific studies that estimate the number of sharks killed each year. The first one, Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets by Dr. Shelley Clarke et al, was published in Ecology Letters in 2006. Using trade data from the 1990s, Dr. Clarke and her coauthors estimated that between 26-73 million sharks are killed each year, with a mean of 38 million. For many years conservation organizations simplified this number by saying something like "as many as 73 million" sharks are killed each year, but Dr. Clarke prefers the more conservative 38 million.

The second study was published this year in the lead up to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks by Dr. Boris Worm et al, was published in Marine Policy. The Worm study took a different approach by adding landed catch data reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to estimates of unreported landings, finned sharks, and other discards of dead sharks. This new study suggests that between 63-273 million sharks are killed each year, with a mean of 100 million. Most shark conservation organizations have updated their materials to reflect the 100 million number as it is the more recent study and takes into account more factors than the Clarke study.

Both studies estimate the number of sharks killed, not, as  Dr. Clarke points out, “the number of sharks killed for their fins”, or “the number of sharks finned” (carcasses discarded at sea), or the “number of sharks finned alive” every year.

Determining the number of sharks finned or killed for their fins is much more difficult.  The Worm study makes an estimate on the number of sharks finned each year by calculating the number of sharks discarded in 2000 and assuming 80% were finned, which was the estimated average rate of shark finning that year.

Dr. Clarke recently used observer data to estimate how many sharks are finned in the western and central Pacific Ocean.  The results are presented in Towards an Integrated Shark Conservation and Management Measure for the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. She found that finning continues at levels of 15‐25% in the purse seine fishery and 30‐40% in the longline fishery, although the longline fishery catches over ten times as many sharks as the purse seine fishery does.  This is despite a finning ban having been in place for a number of years.

Many people confuse shark finning and shark fishing.  Shark finning is where a shark's fins are sliced off (dead or alive) and the body is dumped at sea.  Sometimes sharks are caught on a boat and brought to shore whole, with the fins sliced off on a dock or in a warehouse.  That is not shark finning.  Other times sharks are caught on a boat, the fins are sliced off at sea, and both the bodies and the fins are brought to shore.  This is not shark finning, either.  The shark finning label can only be applied to the first example.  Shark fishing can be applied to all three.

Shark finning is less of an issue than overall shark mortality.  The overfishing of sharks is threatening their populations, not the wasteful disposal of their bodies.  Even if there was full enforcement of the world's finning regulations, threatened or endangered species of shark would not be brought back from the brink of extinction because in the end, finning only determines how a shark dies, not whether it dies, or rather, lives.

The simple fact is that the number of sharks killed each year is much too high.  Sharks are slow growing, mature late, and produce few pups.  They should be managed with policies similar to those of marine mammals and turtles, not tuna and swordfish.

Alyssa Sablan is Shark Defender's student intern.  She lives in Guam.

CITES Getting Ready for Sharks and Rays

Thousands of people all around the world supported shark and manta ray protections at CITES
Twelve months before the entry into force of CITES regulations on shark and rays, the European Union approves a 1.2 million euro project to ensure their effective implementation. Brazil, China, Germany, Japan and the United States have also offered support and technical assistance.

The 178 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) are preparing for the implementation of the shark and ray listings that they adopted at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16) in March 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Parties have exactly 12 months to put in place the measures that will allow effective CITES controls of international trade in the oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus), scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran), smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zigaena), porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus) and manta rays (Manta spp.). The regulations will enter into force on 14 September 2014.

From that time onward, any international trade in specimens of these species will need to be accompanied by CITES permits confirming that they have been harvested sustainably and legally, and this trade will also need to be reported to the CITES Secretariat.

The European Union has made available 1.2 million euros to the Secretariat to support developing countries in the sustainable management and enhanced implementation of CITES regulations for commercially-exploited aquatic species. This financial contribution will be used to strengthen scientific, institutional and enforcement capacity.

On this occasion, the CITES Secretary-General, Mr John E. Scanlon, said: “The decisions taken by CITES to list these sharks and rays was an important first step in ensuring their international trade is legal, sustainable and traceable. Effective implementation of these decisions is what matters now and we will do everything we can to assist CITES Parties, especially developing countries, in being able to comply with the CITES requirements by 14 September 2014. This will require support from a wide-range of stakeholders - Parties, IGOs, NGOs and others - and we thank everyone that is assisting in this effort, particularly the European Union for its very generous financial support.”

Mr Timo Makela, Director of the Global and Regional Challenges Directorate of the European Commission, said: “The inclusion of shark and ray species in CITES in March 2013 was a clear sign that the international community intends to step up its efforts for the protection of marine biodiversity globally. Through its 1.2 million euro project, the European Union shows that it is fully committed to a successful implementation of the CITES requirements for those species. We will be working closely with the CITES Secretariat and other Parties so that those measures make a real difference in favour of the conservation of sharks and for the fishermen.”

Following on from the shark proposals they presented at the CITES CoP16 in March, the Brazilian authorities highlighted that “COP16 results are directly linked to the commitments made by the international community on sustainable fisheries during Rio+20. They show the world that countries are ready to work together to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity and that Parties will take effective actions in this regard.” Brazil recognized the need to enable member States to implement the decisions taken during COP16 and expressed its readiness to contribute to the capacity-building efforts, which it discussed with the CITES Secretary-General during a mission to Brasilia in May, 2013. The Government of Brazil, in collaboration with other governments and NGO partners, has announced it will hold a regional workshop on data collection and identification of sharks included in Appendix II from 3 to 4 December 2013 in Pernambuco, Brazil.

During discussions held in Bonn on 24 July, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) informed the CITES Secretary-General that Germany has launched a study to develop guidelines and recommendations for CITES Parties on how to make Non-detriment findings (NDFs) for the porbeagle and other shark species and is considering holding an international Workshop on NDFs for sharks in 2014. Senior official Elsa Nickel (BMU) said: “We hope that this initiative will contribute to develop the scientific information indispensable to the sustainable management of these sharks.”

China advised the CITES Secretariat in June 2013 that, in spite of its opposition to the inclusion of these shark species in the CITES Appendices at CoP16, and of ongoing concerns regarding implementation, it would apply the CITES decisions and, as a result, did not enter any reservation. In July 2013, the CITES Secretary-General met with the 21 Branch offices of the Chinese Management Authority at a National CITES Retreat and Training session held in Jilin Province, China, where the implementation of the shark and rays listing were discussed.

Mr Scanlon also met with the Japanese Management Authority, relevant ministries and other stakeholders in Japan and noted that, while Japan had entered a reservation on the five species of sharks, it had also expressed its willingness to comply voluntarily with the Convention requirements for export permits and to provide technical support to prepare for the entry into effect of the sharks listing, the details of which were discussed, including in the field of shark fin identification.

With support from the United States of America, the Secretariat also participated in subregional workshops for Central America in May and September 2013. Parties in the subregion agreed to work together on the implementation of the new shark and manta ray listings and will meet again in early 2014 to develop their plans.

The CITES Secretariat is closely cooperating with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and both organizations have agreed a joint plan of action to involve regional fishery management organizations in the implementation of the CITES listings. On 8 July, delegations from FAO and the CITES Secretariat met in Rome to discuss collaboration opportunities in the implementation of the EU-CITES Shark project, the first session being chaired by Mr Arni M. Mathiesen, Assistant Director-General of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, and the CITES Secretary-General.

The European Commission contracted TRAFFIC, a non-governmental organization, to carry out a rapid assessment of capacity-building priorities and needs. TRAFFIC has analysed the most recently available catch and trade data from FAO, collated information found in published sources, and contacted CITES authorities, NGOs and other experts for additional information.

In another effort to improve the legal frameworks for sharks, rays and other CITES-listed species, and following a request from several Caribbean countries at CoP16, the CITES Secretariat also undertook a series of back-to-back legislative assistance missions to Dominica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago from 10 to 21 June 2013.

Press Release

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hong Kong Government Supports Sustainability Conscious Food Consumption

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The Hong Kong government today announced a ban on shark fin soup at government sponsored events, and have forbidden government employees from consuming shark fin soup at functions hosted outside of government.  From the press release:
To demonstrate its commitment to the promotion of green living and sustainability, the Government pledges to adopt sustainability-conscious food consumption during official entertainment functions, which includes no consumption of shark fins.

[snip]

Bureaux and departments will also notify their hosts in advance whenever possible when functions are organised by others that government officials will not consume shark fin, bluefin tuna, black moss and their related food items. Appropriate bureaux and departments will also encourage public organisations funded by the Government to adopt similar practices.
AFP has more, including reactions from environmental groups.
"The announcement is particularly significant as Hong Kong is the world's largest shark fin market, representing approximately 50 percent of the global trade."
Joshua Reichert, executive vice president of the Pew Charitable Trusts

"After almost a decade of advocacy in the form of petitions, protest marches, letter writing and media campaigns, the Hong Kong government has finally seen fit to do the right thing -- for which we applaud them."
Alex Hofford, executive director of Hong Kong-based marine conservation group MyOcean

"Today's decision is another important milestone towards ending shark mortality globally."
Emma Kong, program manager at Hong Kong Shark Foundation

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tiny State Big on Shark Protections

Angelo Villagomez with confiscated oceanic whitetip shark fins
An hour before the Pacific Islands Forum's opening feast, hundreds of shark fins were hauled out for display.

The fins, a costly and controversial delicacy, made it nowhere near a dinner plate. As leaders from Pacific nations looked on, thousands of dollars worth of fins were thrown into the waters off Majuro, the Marshalls Islands capital.

"They either burn them or throw them out to sea," said shark expert and Pew Environment Group conservationist Angelo Villagomez, who emptied two large sacks of crudely sawn-off fins.

It was a gesture which underscored the tiny island state's ambitious commitment to ban commercial shark fishing across its massive exclusive economic zone. The Marshalls are shark-infested, and proud of it. No sharks can be caught or sold.

Luke Warwick at the Majuro Airport
On arriving in Majuro, a rectangular-shaped atoll halfway between Hawaii and Australia, visitors are greeted with large billboards of sharks, reminding them that the country has one of the largest shark sanctuaries in the world - nearly nine times the size of New Zealand.

New Zealand provides some surveillance of fishing boats in the region, and the Marshalls are likely to ask for more help with monitoring.

Marshall Islands Vice-President Tony de Brum helped to create the sanctuary two years ago.

"We are already seeing remarkable changes in our shoreline because of much more shark activity," he said.

"We get more tourists that want to go play with the sharks than we have tourists running away from sharks."

Few people appeared to be swimming around Majuro, but locals said this was not because of a fear of sharks, but because the atoll had a poor waste-water system.

The number of tourists visiting the myriad atolls and islands is minuscule - it is the fifth-least-visited country in the world. But those who do make the expensive trip - usually from Honolulu - come for the diving.

Mr Villagomez, who is based in Washington, said the Pacific was leading the world on shark protection. All purse seine boats had observers, and any shark bycatch had to be thrown away.

The fins thrown into Majuro harbour on Tuesday were seized from a Taiwanese vessel in February. It was fined $125,000. They were sliced from hammerheads, blue sharks, makos, and an oceanic white-tip - believed to be the most endangered shark in the world.

Published in The New Zealand Herald on September 5, 2013.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Pacific Shark Conservation Leaders Unite at Pacific Islands Forum


I ran into the voice of American Samoa shark conservation, Joe 'J-Smooth' Iosua, at the Pacific Islands Forum this morning! Joe voiced the Shark Defender public service announcements and was one of the campaign managers that led to the 2012 protection of all sharks in American Samoa.

This is the first time Joe and I have met, although we've done work together for almost two years.

Angelo Villagomez and Joe Iosua
Representing the Pacific
Bringing the Gangnam Style
It's great to see so many shark conservation leaders here this week, including Minister Tony deBrum, Stefanie Brendl, Luke Warwick, Prime Minister Henry Puna, and Willy Kostka.

Oh, and Joe is also the genius behind American Samoa Gangnam Style.  That's the true reason I wanted to meet him.

11 Portraits of Majuro


The Pacific Islands Forum kicked off a few hours ago.  Although I am Chamorro, I am blessed to be on the Marshall Islands delegation and have full access to the meeting.  I've been shooting up a storm with my camera.  Here are some portraits of just a few of the thousands of Marshallese helping to kick off this amazing annual event.  I won't put captions to allow you to try to figure out what they are doing on your own.  And if you want to see more photos from PIF, check out my personal Facebook page, The Saipan Blog.  -Angelo Villagomez











Monday, September 2, 2013

Enforcing Protections for Protected Sharks

Oceanic whitetip sharks are easily identified by their rounded, white-tipped fins.
In April 2013, the Marshall Island Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) fined a longlining vessel US$120,000 for fishing for sharks within the Marshall Islands shark sanctuary.  MIMRA confiscated the fins and upon inspection discovered a set of oceanic whitetip sharks, a species protected by every tuna regional fisheries management organization and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  This species is easily identified, and stood out from the blue, silky, and mako shark fins in the hold.

These fins, and many others confiscated in the bust, will be returned to the ocean tomorrow morning.  While it is too late for this individual vulnerable shark, the continuing enforcement in the Marshall Islands serves as a deterrent for other would-be shark fishermen.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Pacific is leading the world in shark conservation

Angelo Villagomez in Majuro, Marshall Islands
"The Pacific is leading the world in shark conservation," Angelo Villagomez, a shark specialist with US-based conservation group the Pew Charitable Trusts, said Sunday.

Villagomez was in the Marshall Islands to discuss shark sanctuaries with leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum, the annual summit of Pacific heads of state.

"Pew is working with islands that have sanctuaries on enforcement, implementing best practices, and conducting research."

The nearly 300 purse seine fishing boats now plying tuna grounds in the Pacific are required to have independent observers on board and with "100 percent observer coverage, enforcement of shark bans is as good as it will get," Villagomez added.

"The islands now have eyes on the water and in the ports."

Since banning shark fishing in its waters in 2011, the Marshall Islands has arrested two foreign vessels for having shark fins on board and fined them more than $100,000.

"During the next two years, our goal is to create a united Pacific front on sharks," Villagomez said.

"We are seeing a reduction in demand from China. Hong Kong is also showing a significant decline in consumption," he said.

However, he said the decline in shark fin demand over the past year was not directly linked to increasing shark protection by Pacific island governments.

Instead, it was related to the Chinese leadership's crackdown on graft and opposition to extravagance.

"It's not to do with conservation. It's related to a Chinese government anti-graft crackdown, which has cut back on dinners where shark fin soup was featured on the menu," Villagomez said.

"The culture is (also) changing in Asia among younger people. They aren't eating shark fin soup as much."

Historically, high demand in the Asian market has fuelled shark-finning by fishermen on commercial tuna vessels in the Pacific.

But finning is slowly being shut down as the number of islands legislating shark sanctuaries grows.

Villagomez will be meeting this week with Pacific leaders to discuss extending the number of shark sanctuaries.

Published by AFP on Monday, September 2, 2013
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