Friday, April 3, 2009

Palau's Shark/Fishing Legislation: a reputation for conservation at risk

Palau has been a favorite dive tourist destination for many years because of its wonderful reefs and bountiful fishlife. And the island has, in the past, taken active steps to protect its shark populations with aggressive action against illegal shark finning operations. All of these efforts have contributed to the island's tourist economy and sound conservation policy.

But that all could potentially be undone with recent legislation that was introduced to both allow for commercial shark fishing and allow for the use of purse seining - a method that brings in a large amount of by-catch. Palau commercial fishing interests have been working with Philippine fishing groups and the combined influence on Palau legislators has produced SB8-44 (which drops the ban on shark fishing) and SB8-50 (which drops an export tax on fish caught by purse seining).

According to FinsMagazine, the collective result of the laws would be:
  • To permit and encourage the killing of sharks in Palau’s waters
  • To promote shark finning
  • To promote fishing methods that according to Monterey Bay Aquarium “result in large amounts of unintended catch” including sharks, dolphins, turtles, rays and juveniles:
  • To exempt fishing companies from any export taxes on fish taken from Palau’s waters
  • To make it practically impossible for Palau’s law enforcement personnel to successfully prosecute alleged violators in the courts
  • To risk destroying Palau’s sustainable tourism industry
  • To risk destroying Palau’s marine resources through unsustainable practices
  • To gamble on all of the above for no apparent gain to Palau or Palauans.
This issue has made the rounds of several shark blogs recently, but opinions from everyone - from divers to land-bound ocean advocates - are needed to remind the Palau government that the negative impact on tourism and the island's marine ecology will ultimately outweigh the short-term gains in a working relationship with Philippine commercial fisheries.

Email the Palau Chamber of Commerce ( and Belau Tourism Association ( and the government tourism office Palau Visitors Authority ( .


Anonymous said...

Curious if anyone’s has checked out the new book “Hell’s Aquarium” by Steve Alten? It’s an awesome read. It’s about the ancient prehistoric shark Megalodon, which makes the current Great White Shark look like a gold fish. I am currently reading it now:

RTSea said...

Megalodon was an interesting character. A related species but not necessarily a direct ancestor of great whites, Megalodon is another example of an animal's size (some scientists believe its size has been exaggerated - still huge but not as huge sometimes reported) working against itself as the earth evolved, much like some of the large dinosaurs and mammals that have roamed the planet but ultimately could not be supported over the long haul.

Haven't read Hell's Aquarium but will look into it. Also, check out Great White Sharks: The Biology of Carcharodon carcharias, edited by Dr. Peter Klimley.