Posted on 12 December 2017
A conservation measure to close a shark-finning loophole was defeated in Manila at the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the international body that manages tuna fisheries in the Pacific.
The European Union, one of the 26 members of the WCPFC, proposed a measure that would require all fishing boats operating in the world’s largest tuna fisheries to land any sharks caught with their fins naturally attached to their bodies. While the measure had support from countries such as the United States, Fiji and Australia, it was blocked by Japan, China and Chinese Taipei.
The conservation measure was also opposed by Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Samoa, a move which surprised participants at the meeting because these countries have declared themselves to be shark sanctuaries, and all wanted exemptions from the conservation measure for their domestic fleets. WCPFC measures require consensus agreement from all countries to pass. Currently, all fishing vessels are allowed to land shark fins and carcasses separately, as long as the weight of fins doesn’t exceed 5% of the weight of the carcasses.
“The continued opposition to this measure is extremely disappointing,” said Ian Campbell, Manager of WWF’s Shark & Ray Initiative. “The current measure of allowing vessels to land fins and bodies separately simply isn’t working. The most recent official report from independent observers states that finning is still occurring in the Pacific tuna fisheries, even for species such as oceanic whitetip and silky sharks, which are prohibited from being retained at all.”
The EU regularly presents this measure to close the 5% loophole, but it is continually blocked by China, Japan and Chinese Taipei on the grounds that having the fins attached to the sharks is somehow dangerous for fishermen, although none of these countries has produced any evidence of fin-related injuries.
Mr Campbell said, “What was surprising this year was the fact that some Pacific countries such as Kiribati, Samoa and the FSM also stated that they wouldn’t back the shark conservation measure. The statement from Samoa was particularly surprising as they were co-sponsor of a measure for the protection of blue sharks at the recent meeting of the Convention for Conservation of Migratory Species, which was held in this very city a few months ago.”
Despite the failure to adopt a measure to close the finning loophole, some progress was made towards developing a comprehensive management measure for sharks and rays for the entire Pacific. Mr. Campbell continued: “While we were disappointed at the failure of the anti-finning shark conservation measure, we are certainly very hopeful of the opportunity to assess all current shark and ray conservation measures and to develop new ones. The members of the WCPFC opened this process up to NGOs, and WWF will play a major part in this process. We are confident that we’ll be able to produce a measure that can significantly reduce the mortality of sharks in the region, as long as it is adopted once it is produced.”
The annual WCPFC meeting discussed numerous other measures, with the major focus on developing management measures for the region’s tuna stocks. There was also some mixed success on agreeing to some measures to limit plastic pollution and reducing fishing impacts on seabirds.
Ian Campbell, Manager, Global Shark and Ray Conservation Initiative, WWF
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