Friday, October 07, 2011

World's largest shark sanctuary around Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands (Wikipedia) are a remote country in the middle of the South Pacific, comprising a collection of islands and atolls and having a population of less than seventy thousand people. It's clear from the map below that its territory is mostly ocean.

That's what makes the recent announcement all the more significant. All 1,990,530 sq. km of its territorial waters will now become the world's largest shark sanctuary. This comes after the country enacted a moratorium on the shark trade in March of this year. According to the Pew Environment Group:

Key provisions of the comprehensive Marshall Islands' law include: 
  • A complete prohibition on the commercial fishing of sharks as well as the sale of any sharks or shark products. Its zero retention stipulation requires that any shark caught accidentally by fishing vessels must be set free.
  • Large monetary fines, anywhere between US$25,000 to US$200,000, for anyone who is found to be fishing sharks or in possession of shark fins. In addition, violators would be fined the market value of the product in their possession.
  • A ban on the use of wire leaders, a longline fishing gear which is among the most lethal to sharks.
  • A monitoring and enforcement provision which requires all fishing vessels to land their catch at one of the country's ports and bans at sea transfers.
Read more at the Pew Environment website. Via Science and National Geographic.

In related news from last month, Yao Ming, the famous Chinese basketball star, endorsed a renewed campaign against shark's fin soup in China (BBC News). This campaign is run by WildAid, an environmental NGO (press release). He's been associated with WildAid for at least the past five years (NY Times). As China becomes more affluent, demand for shark's fin is rising, but this raised awareness will hopefully help to counteract that.

Poster of Yao Ming by WildAid. From Bush Warriors blog

An indication of how things could be going is in Hong Kong, where recent surveys have shown that attitudes towards serving and consuming shark's fin are changing. The Malaysian newspaper The Star has recently published a good article on the shark trade, including perspectives from those who are in the shark-processing industry.

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