Monday, September 29, 2014

Is Trophy Fishing Driving Fish Extinction?

Fishermen land a large tiger shark
A new paper in Marine Policy finds that 85 species assessed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species are also targeted by recreational fishermen hoping to break International Game Fishing Association records.

The researchers suggest that if the IGFA were to stop issuing records that "implicitly require killing the fish for IUCN Red List Threatened species, it would immediately reduce fishing pressure on the largest individuals of species of conservation concern while still allowing anglers to target more than 93% of species that records have been issued for."

I caught up with lead scientist (and Twitter superstar) David Shiffman with the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami and asked him a few follow up questions regarding his study.

@saipanblogger: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions, David. I admit it was hard coming up with questions because you do such a good job filling in any gaps in your study with a Q&A on your blog.

So here we go. Many people think of you as primarily a shark scientist, but this study is about all species listed on the IGFA records list. How many of these species are sharks, and how many of those are threatened? And what’s the difference between a shark that is assessed as threatened, near threatened, or least concern?

@whysharksmatter: An IUCN Red List assessment is a scientific evaluation of the conservation status of a species. There are formal definitions, but basically Least Concern means that populations are healthy, Near Threatened means we should pay attention, and Threatened (which includes Vulnerable, Endangered and Critically Endangered) means that the species is in trouble and may face extinction if trends continue.

Recreational fishing can be a threat to fish populations, including sharks. Trophy fishing targets the largest individuals in a population, which are often the females capable of having the most (and the healthiest) babies. We identified 85 IUCN Red List Threatened species that are targeted by trophy fishing, including more than a dozen species of sharks and their relatives

@saipanblogger: Austin Gallagher previously authored a study that showed high mortality rates for certain species of sharks caught in recreational fisheries. Based on the conservation status of shark species and the results of Austin’s paper, what recommendations would you make for managing recreational fishing of sharks?

@whysharksmatter: Many anglers practice catch and release when fishing for sharks, but if the catch part is stressful enough, the fish will die even after release. It's critical to minimize fight time, particularly for especially sensitive (and threatened ) sharks like hammerheads.

@saipanblogger: IGFA has already responded to your study saying that they are not going to change their categories. Other than getting rid of the categories, are there measurements IGFA could use other than weight to determine world records?

@whysharksmatter: If the IGFA was to respond to the concerns of many marine biologists and conservationists that we raised in our paper by no longer issuing weight-based all-tackle world records (which implicitly require killing the fish) for IUCN red list threatened species, it would reduce fishing pressure on the largest individuals of these species. As we said in our paper, few policy changes can do so much for so many species for so little cost. The IGFA could switch to length-based records, which can be done using catch and release.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Obama Set to Save Pacific Sharks

According to the Associated Press and the Washington Post, American President Barack Obama is set to fully protect the waters surrounding Johnston, Wake, and Jarvis in the Central Pacific.  The protections will extend across the full exclusive economic zone and create the largest marine protected area in the world.

These new protections will protect everything that swims in the ocean, including many species of sharks.

Monday, September 22, 2014

New Cites protection for sharks, rays incredibly significant

Guest Post
by William Winram

In the history of our blue planet, September 14 was a big day. That’s when real protections started for five species of shark and all species of manta rays. From that day onwards, these seven species, which are commercially valuable and traded in large numbers, have been subject to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). South Africa has a vital interest in this matter, not only because shark populations are world-renowned along South Africa’s coastline, but because the next meeting of all the 180 nations that are party to the Convention will be in Johannesburg in 2016.

In March of 2013, member nations of the Convention agreed to add porbeagle, oceanic whitetip and smooth, great and scalloped hammerhead sharks, along with all manta ray species, to Appendix II. This category means that international trade in any of these species must be proven to be sustainable and legal, or it must stop. And that is a welcome relief because these five shark species are some of the most commercially exploited species in the world.

Sharks are resilient – they have survived in our oceans for over 400 million years, even withstanding an era that included a newly discovered aquatic dinosaur that eats sharks. But now a quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction due to overfishing. Despite the popular perception of man-eating sharks hunting humans, we are far more dangerous to sharks, than they are to us.

Demand for shark products, including fins, liver oil and meat, has led to the overfishing of sharks for many years and has decimated populations worldwide.

More than 100 million sharks are caught and killed in commercial fisheries every year. And because sharks are slow-growing and mature late, only bearing a few young over the course of their lifetime, they are not able to recover from those huge losses.

I have been intimately connected to the ocean almost my entire life. It has been my workplace and my playground. I understand how essential a healthy ocean is to all life on our blue planet. Sharks are a vital part of the marine ecosystem. They are incredibly important to the health of our oceans. Our oceans produce 50 per cent of the oxygen in the air that we breathe. We cannot afford to destroy them any more than we already have. In essence, healthy oceans need sharks.

Research has shown that a reef shark caught and sold brings in only U.S. $108. That same shark, alive and keeping the reef ecosystem in check, can bring in more than U.S. $1.9 million in ecotourism dollars over the course of its lifetime. In South Africa, it’s been reported that tourists visiting to shark dive account for as much as 50 percent of local business sales.

The bottom line – sharks have a better economic value alive than dead.

The new CITES listings are incredibly significant. They show that the global community understands the critical need to protect shared sharks in our shared ocean waters. All five shark species that gained protections on Appendix II of the Convention on September 14 are pelagic, which means they are highly migratory. So a shark seen swimming along the West Australian coastline could very well be the same shark seen off the coast of South Africa. That makes these global protections all the more necessary.

In two years, South Africa will have the chance to host one of the world’s most important conservation meetings. It will be an opportunity to show the world South Africa’s commitment to shark conservation. And by then, let’s hope the decline of these magnificent seven sharks and rays has stopped and the journey of recovery has well and truly begun.

William Winram is Oceans Ambassador for the Global Marine and Polar Programme of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and a freediving world record holder. You can follow him on Twitter.

Trading in CITES—listed sharks can cost cabinetmakers’ jobs

Guest Post
by Marc De Verteuil

Angelo Villagomez, manager at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Shark Conservation campaign, lifts the juvenile scalloped hammerhead. I ask him to hold it up to hold it up for a photo opportunity. “Hold it like it is a baby,” I tell him. It is lighter than it looks.

When most of us think of a hammerhead shark, we imagine the 16ft full-grown variety. A 5’10” human holding, what could have been, a great apex predator puts things in perspective. Worldwide about 100 million sharks are caught each year. Of this number, studies suggest that 26 to 73 million are harvested annually for their fins.

Villagomez, in Trinidad together with his colleague KerriLynn Miller, Senior Associate at Pew’s Global Shark Conservation, looks at it and reminds me that the next day new Cites rules go in to force. “From tomorrow (September 14, 2014) T&T has to stop the international trade in hammerheads, porbeagles, oceanic whitetips and mantas because they have not produced a non-detriment finding showing that the fishery is sustainable…” He goes on to say that there are only a few tens of thousands of these scalloped hammerheads left in the Atlantic. That sounds dramatic, considering hundreds of these are sold at markets in T&T each day.

A few days later, while writing this article, I ask him to back-up the claim and he e-mails me the following: “A recent stock assessment (Hayes et al. 2009) found that the northwestern Atlantic population has decreased from about 155,500 in 1981 to about 26,500 in 2005.

Other studies have shown scalloped hammerheads have declined more than 90 per cent. The scalloped hammerhead shark is considered endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.”

It is a moment of introspection, a bit dimmed from the loud “whoop-whoops” shouted out in conservation circles when, at the 2013 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) meeting in Bangkok, a majority vote was announced to grant Appendix II protection to three species of hammerhead sharks (great hammerhead, scalloped hammerhead and smooth hammerhead), oceanic whitetip sharks and all mantas. Those victory cries stemmed from conservationists’ concerns that global shark numbers are in a dizzying race to the bottom.

T&T is the number-six exporter of shark fin to Hong Kong, where shark fin is an entrenched cultural culinary item. To eat shark meat in T&T is as much a cultural habit, as it is to slurp shark fin soup in Hong Kong or China. The country imports sharks for consumption, and thousands of sharks are locally caught for sale in markets all across the Caribbean nation each day.

What does Cites Appendix II mean in real terms, on the ground, in a country like T&T? First off let’s look at what it is meant to achieve.

“An Appendix II listing under Cites is designed to ensure that commercial international trade is strictly regulated to ensure its sustainability, legality and traceability for the long-term survival of the species in the wild.”

Sounds great. “Sustainability, legality and traceability” are the keywords. To trade an Appendix II listed species an export permit must be had.

The requirements for an export license are:

“Article IV (Appendix-II species). i) An export permit shall only be granted when … a Scientific Authority of the State of export has advised that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species;”

This is the “non-detriment finding” referred to by Villagomez. So a permit is not just a rubber stamp. It is the result of a scientific assessment and a management plan that ensures sustainability.

KerriLynn Miller, senior associate at Pew’s Global Shark Conservation, explains: “International trade in newly listed species—scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads, oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, and all manta rays—must be shown to be legal and sustainable.

With the implementation of the five shark species in Appendix II of Cites beginning September 14, 2014, any future export of fins from oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads will require an export permit that shows the trade was sustainable and legal. In addition, the shark fins from the oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and scalloped, great and smooth hammerheads can be visually identified and many officials around the world, including in Hong Kong, have been trained in the visual identification to enforce the Cites listings.”

T&T has work to do to bring its shark fishery in line with international obligations. If it is found to trade Cites-protected species internationally, without the necessary permits, this can have serious economic implications for other users of Cites listed species.

How serious a problem can this be? One example is furniture makers who use mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). Cites stipulates that when a country is found to be in violation of trade in one listed species, that countries’ trade in all listed species can be suspended. So, mad as it may sound to a cabinetmaker, the furniture industry can suffer from non-implementation of international obligations that fisheries have with Cites.

T&T is making some strides in shark conservation. The country recently announced an intention to ban shark finning, but it can’t stop there. Even if implemented, Cites regulations only apply to international trade. That will not prevent the hundreds, or thousands of endangered species hitting the markets each and every day.

The best solution is a shark sanctuary, like in the Bahamas, Honduras and the British Virgin Islands. More are being planned throughout the Caribbean. Failing a shark sanctuary, at a minimum, T&T must protect all endangered shark species, both through Cites and local laws.

 Marc De Verteuil lives in Port of Spain Trinidad. He is the director of Papa Bois Conservation.  This story originally published in the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian on Monday, September 22, 2014.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Pacific is Ready for CITES Implementation

Guest Post
by Arthur Sokimi

On September 14, 180 countries, including Fiji and five other Pacific island countries, will begin enforcing historic shark protections agreed to at a meeting in March 2013 of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Now Fiji will no longer allow the import or export of manta rays, oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and hammerhead sharks unless their parts can be shown to have been caught legally from a sustainable source.

Shark conservation is not new to Fijians. We have a deep respect for sharks, and it is taboo to eat them in many parts of the country. Furthermore, scientific studies have informed us that sharks perform a vital role in the ecosystem, as predators that help maintain healthy ocean ecosystems.

Proving the sustainability of these species in order to go ahead with fishing them will not be routine. It will require significant public consultation, and the fishing industry must fund scientific studies and stock assessments to determine that international trade will not further harm shark populations.

Enforcement of the new measures will be key. Enforcement officers in Nadi and Suva have been trained by Dr. Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University in New York and can now easily and quickly identify the fins of oceanic whitetips and hammerhead sharks, as well as the gill plates of manta rays. Without a permit to show that these species were obtained legally from a sustainable source, the assumption will be that they were obtained illegally and enforcement can take place.

Earlier this year in Nadi, the Department of Environment, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Coral Reef Alliance co-hosted a CITES implementation workshop for the new shark listings, which was attended by government officials and scientists from Australia, Kiribati, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Presenters from Germany, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the United States also attended to share their expertise.

The workshop allowed me to meet people from across the Pacific, listen to them, and learn about the issues they face in their own countries. As a group, we realized that the challenges we face as individual countries we also confront as a region. I was happy to see a sense of teamwork going forward in the Pacific to correctly implement the new shark listings.

During the workshop we learned that some countries, such as Palau, will not have to worry about the details of the new CITES rules; Palau has already chosen to establish a shark sanctuary throughout its national waters and prohibit the trade of sharks. This is an increasingly popular policy option in the Pacific to restore sharks to their former abundance: the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Cook Islands, and Tokelau have also created shark sanctuaries.

This is good news for sharks and people. Since the export of shark products produces the greatest pressure on shark populations, these new protections will help these shark species to rebound to their former abundance. For a government, a prohibition is easier and cheaper to enforce than a catch limit, which requires high monetary and human capacity, which may be difficult for Pacific island countries. It is my hope that in the near future, the Pacific will make more positive moves toward healthier shark populations -- which science has shown benefits ocean health.

Healthy sharks. Healthy oceans. Healthy and happy people.

Arthur Sokimi is a shark conservationist in Fiji. You can follow him on Twitter.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Today is the Day

A new chapter in shark conservation begins today. Now we have to work to implement the listings of manta rays, porbeagle, oceanic whitetip, and hammerhead sharks. I hope these successes will lead to more listings and more shark sanctuaries.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Implementing New Shark Protections Worldwide

This video from The Pew Charitable Trusts explains how much work has taken place to implement CITES shark protections in time for the September 14, 2014 deadline:
Countries around the world have been working together on an unprecedented scale to prepare for new landmark shark protections that go into effect Sunday, Sept. 14. Excitement about the potential impact of the new rules has been building around the globe among those concerned about the future of these predators so vital to a healthy ocean food web.

Under these new rules, international trade in sharks that are commercially exploited in large numbers will be regulated for the first time.

Learn more about the efforts that countries worldwide have undertaken to prepare for the deadline through an inspiring video and Web features that tell the story of the implementation of the new protections.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


The listings of sharks and manta rays passed by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) take effect this weekend. You can expect the many countries and environmental organizations who worked to pass these protections to bring much attention to the start of enforcement. You can follow the conversation on social media with the tag #Yay4SharksNRays. We'll post updates over the weekend as they come available.
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