Sunday, July 10, 2011

Shark Conservation Progress: encouraging regional steps; next up - international regulations

Shark conservation has certainly been making some progress over the past couple of years. Several nations have instituted new regulations within their waters regarding commercial shark fishing or the total prohibition of shark fins. Here is a short list of developments:

Bahamas: The Bahamas National Trust, with support from the PEW Environment Group, was able to get substantial citizen support for its declaration of a Bahamas Shark Sanctuary. The sanctuary was created by adding an amendment to the Fisheries Resources Jurisdiction and Conservation Act to prohibit commercial shark fishing along with the sale, importation and export of shark products.

California, USA: Because of it's two large ports in San Francisco and Los Angeles, a considerable amount of shark product trade is done through California. Assembly Bill 376, a ban on import/export of shark fins similar to Hawaii's ban that went into effect last year, has passed the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee and now moves on to the Senate Appropriations Committee. While facing strong opposition from shark industry-supported groups that claim a racial prejudice, since most of the market for shark products is with Asians, the legislation has also received considerable support from a host of vocal pro-shark groups and celebrities. Though the legislative process is complicated, passage appears to be likely. The biggest concern is whether, in making its way through the political machinations, the legislation remains intact or becomes watered down with exceptions or loopholes.

Honduras: Honduras also established a shark sanctuary in late June. President Porfirio Lobo Sosa signed the sanctuary bill into law, making permanent a 2010 moratorium on commercial fishing for sharks in the 92,665 square miles of Honduras' exclusive economic zone, which covers both its Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

Guam: The Association of Pacific Island Legislatures (APIL) issued a
resolution in June stressing the need for additional actions to protect sharks. The resolution, reached at APIL’s general assembly conference in Palau, states that the association agrees with “protective legislation in Palau, Hawaii, CNMI (Northern Marianas) and Guam.” The member states of APIL are the Northern Marianas, Guam, Palau, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, American Samoa, Nauru and Hawaii. The exclusive economic zones of all APIL member nations total an area larger than the land masses of the continental United States and European Union countries combined.

Washington, USA: Following the lead of Hawaii, the state of Washington passed legislation in May that bans the sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins. The legislation received near unanimous support in the House and 100% backing in the Senate.

Oregon, USA: The state of Oregon is moving forward with legislation to ban the sale and trade of shark fins. Legislation has passed the House and is awaiting hopeful passage in the Senate. As is the case with other US state legislation, it does not affect or eliminate existing legal commercial shark fishing regulations, but focuses on only shark fins.

Asian Markets: Taking aim at the heart of the problem, Asian market demand, a recent poll of 1,000 Hong Kong residents
showed 78 percent of respondents considered it “acceptable” to leave shark fin soup off the menu at events like weddings. In another sign that the topic is getting top-level attention, a deputy of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, Ding Liguo, filed a proposal last month to ban trade in shark fins, according to a report from Xinhua, the state-run news agency. “Only legislation can stop shark fin trading and reduce the killings of sharks,” Mr. Ding said, adding that the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan consume 95 percent the world’s fins. There's still a long ways to go in altering Asian market demand, but these are encouraging signs.

The environmental argument for protecting sharks - the disruption of marine ecosystems caused by the loss of top predators like sharks - is having some resonance with various governments. Another motivator is, as is often the case, economics. More and more substantiated reports are coming out showing that a live shark has a much greater long-term value - sometimes in the millions of dollars - than a dead shark with respect to tourism dollars, either through shark ecotourism or simply the maintenance of a healthier reef for swimmers, snorkelers, and divers by the presence of a balanced shark population.

However, as important as these national efforts are, they only impact regional waters or cause shark fin import/export centers to move elsewhere. International waters are still left wide open. While the shark conservation movement has begun to move beyond the early emotional position regarding the barbarity of shark finning to focus more on the environmental and economic impacts, thereby gaining more political traction, the next major step is to harness the momentum and weight of all these efforts to date to bring about change on an international level. Through United Nations environmental committees and other worldwide groups like the IUCN and CITES, regulations and protection can hopefully be put in place that, in essence, know no oceanic boundaries.

Encouraging steps forward, but there is still a long way to go. Hopefully, the shark is as patient as we are slow.

Read about the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary in the Caribbean News.
Read about California's AB376 in the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Read about the Honduras Shark Sanctuary in
Read about the push for greater protection in the South Pacific in Pacific News Center.
Read about Washington state's shark fin legislation in
Shark Defenders.
Read about Oregons shark fin legislation in the
Oregon Capitol News.
Read about Asian market demand for shark products in
The New York Times.

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