Sunday, October 7, 2012

Saving Sharks in Arabia: conference to look at regulating commercial shark fishing

A step in the right direction for shark conservation might be on the horizon in Dubai. A conference will be held this coming week to discuss regulations regarding commercial fishing for several species of hammerhead sharks.  Organized by the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water and Sharkquest of Arabia, the four-day Shark Conservation in Arabia will include government officials and scientists.  

The goal is to determine whether shark fishing, particularly involving the great, smooth and scalloped hammerhead sharks, should be regulated or even banned altogether if the scientific evidence provided by the participants dictates it.  There lies part of the challenge as scientific evidence regarding the populations of these sharks in Arabian waters is a bit on the slim side.

With examples like the reduction in hammerhead populations in and around Mexico and in the Mediterranean, where the loss of hammerheads is estimated at as much as 99.99%, it would seem logic would dictate that Arabia's hammerhead sharks are likely not different from other populations in terms of their slow reproductive rates.  And so, even if the population was robust, at current demand levels for shark fins the Arabian population would evaporate rather quickly if commercial shark fishing went unabated.

It is the hope of local shark conservationists that strong regulations will be proposed and agreed to at the conference.  Such regulations would then be formally proposed at the March meeting of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).  This is necessary as the current trade in sharks in the region, both importing and exporting, involves several different countries.  So the end result must be international regulations or bans, and that is the primary role of CITES.

However, strong opposition can be expected as there is a considerable economic incentive at risk here.  Worldwide, the market for shark fins has been estimated at $1.2 billion USD.  And as pressure continues to mount against it - and as the populations of shark species continue to decline - that dollar figure will go up per pound. 

Hammerheads are not the only shark species at risk.  Sonja Fordham, president of Washington, DC-based Shark Advocates International, recently posted a picture on Facebook of thresher sharks lining a dock in Dubai.  While thresher shark meat can be found on the menus of some higher end seafood restaurants, these sharks are most likely bound for the shark fin market as shark meat can spoil quickly when not properly treated and refrigerated.

The UAE is the fifth largest exporter of shark fins and, judging by these few pictures, it's not hard to see how.  That makes this week's Shark Conservation in Arabia conference all the more important.

Source: The National                    

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