|Setting purse seine nets around whale sharks was banned in 2012|
RMI Praised for Fining US SeinerThe Marshall Islands fined several vessels in 2012 and 2013. The shark sanctuary was declared in October 2011.
The recent fine meted out to a US flagged purse seiner was praised by a major United States conservation organization.
Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority officials confirmed last week that the US vessel Sea Bounty has paid $125,000 rather than go to court. Although the vessel denied that it was illegally catching sharks, the violations that led to the fine were reported by an on-board fisheries observer. "When the shark laws are enforced, it serves as a deterrent for future violations," said Angelo Villagomez, a shark expert with the Washington, DC-based Pew Foundation. "The Marshall Islands fines are particularly significant; these fines can be used to fund further enforcement efforts. It also shows the world that port enforcement works, and that shark sanctuaries work."
The vessel was reported both catching silky sharks and doing a tuna set on a whale shark, which is prohibited by RMI law. The huge size of whale sharks attracts tuna, making them a target for tuna boats.
"Whale sharks swimming on the surface act as a living fish aggregation device, or FAD," said Villagomez. "There will often be schools of tuna swimming below the big shark. Whale sharks are assessed as 'vulnerable' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Endangered Species."
Silky sharks have been singled out for protection because of heavy fishing. "Silky sharks are a major secondary catch in the western and central Pacific, but they have been fished so heavily the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) says they are overfished and that overfishing is still occurring," said Vilagomez.
Because of concern of overfishing, silky sharks were recently placed on a protected list by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, and fishing vessels are supposed to return them to the ocean alive if they are caught. "It is worrisome if this measure is not being followed by industry, but it is encouraging that enforcement is catching the violations," said Villagomez. "If industry doesn't implement the already agreed to protections, they can expect more stringent, global protections down the road."
Villagomez praised RMI for its vigilance in enforcing its shark sanctuary. "The Marshall Islands continues to be the model shark sanctuary in terms of its legal framework and enforcement," he said. "They are a global leader on the issue of shark conservation, and I hope that other countries continue to follow their lead."