Sunday, October 07, 2012

Certified Shark Fins from Western Australia?


Prima facie, it appears to dovetail beautifully with what I've been advocating for a long time, i.e. attaining independent third-party certification that a determined Shark fishery, but also the trade in Shark fins are being conducted sustainably. Yes that's a lot to read so in order to spare you the inconvenience, lemme cite myself.
In a nutshell, this is what i believe.
As much as I love them and as much as I deplore it when they are being killed: Sharks are not sacred Fish.
For good or for bad, they are a source of protein and some people want to eat them and yes, they are also a rather useless ingredient in an Asian soup. But then again, at least two religions frown on us eating pork - what would we say if they came and tried to tell us what to eat and what not. Criticizing culinary preferences, cultural or not, is just not a good strategy for furthering conservation - advocating strict sustainability is.

Right now, we must advocate Shark conservation and as long as Sharks are being killed in huge numbers world wide, those sanctuaries are certainly the best way of trying to create a resemblance of balance.
But if in the future there will be uncontroversial proof that harvesting specific quotas of specific Sharks in specific waters is fully sustainable, then I believe that we will have to accept that those quotas be extracted.
So, is this a good development?
At least in theory, I cannot but applaud it - but like always, all depends on the specific details and my pal Michael is already voicing the usual reservations vis-a-vis the MSC. And of course the sharkitarians are gnashing their teeth - but frankly, who cares.

Any preliminary evidence?
From what I can discern, the Department of Fisheries of Western Australia is anything but a bunch of exploitative Fish-murdering yahoos but instead, they very much appear to be extremely aware of the need to carefully manage their marine resources under the aspect of sustainability. The MSC is WA's chosen third-party certifier and Western Australia already boasts MSC certification for its famous rock lobsters.
WWF Australia certainly appears to approve of the way things are being handled.

Sounds great doesn't it.
But like Michael correctly remarks, there are unresolved questions about whether the MSC certifications is good enough. As always, this is an extremely complicated and controversial topic, way beyond the scope of this post. But should you really want to build an own opinion, I highly recommend that you start by exploring this brilliant series of posts on Sea Monster. Furthermore, you may want to consult this description of the present Western Australian Shark fisheries, i.e. Temperate and Tropical.

I say, let's give this a chance.
Yes the MSC certification process may be partly inadequate - but if so, let's not just slam it but help improve it! As far as I know, it's the best (if not the only one) there is and in the specific case of Sharks, a MSC-certified fishery and/or fin trade would be light years ahead of what is happening globally, i.e. rampant overfishing, cheating and poaching!

I've said it before, we need to make a choice.
We can remain absolutely dogmatic and oppose any fishing, any trade and any consumption of Sharks - and if so, I am intimately convinced that we will ultimately fail.
Or, we can honestly embrace the cause of  sustainability, become part of the process and be able to come up with pragmatic solutions. By being viewed as valued counterparts and not radical opponents,  we will hopefully be granted a seat at the table in order to first define what full sustainability needs to specifically encompass in a specific fishery, and then develop adequate mechanisms to achieve that aim.

Isn't that the much better strategy?
Or am I missing something here?


Tropical Selkie said...

Mike. Great post as usual. I comment here as myself and am not representing any organization or group (as I am affiliated with a few -- some that think your way and others more radical). I worked with and then for the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and have seen the data and analyses used to set MSY and quotas (NMFS' attempt to make fisheries 'sustainable') and have seen it fail over and over again. So, to move towards applying similar evaluations/statistics to sharks that mature and reproduce so much more slowly makes little to no sense. Might MSC and partners come up with something BRAND NEW that is a better fit for shark populations? Perhaps. However, demand always finds a way to push the limits. And, if there is a market for 'sustainably' sourced fins, then there is a market for pseudo-sustainably sourced fins. Finally, there is ZERO international need for shark fins or shark meat -- is there a demand, yes. A need, no. Let's reserve the killing of sharks for artisanal fishers who take less and truly need the protein source, if sharks are to be taken at all. With 7 billion + people now on the planet, developed nations are going to have to start making some damn sacrifices when it comes to wild harvest of any kind; and that's just common sense.

DaShark said...

Thank you Sam!
Very thoughtful as always!
So, are you agreeing about the principle of sustainability but criticizing the current process?
Because if not, sayonara and have a great life! :)

Now you’re absolutely right: we are 7bn and will get to 9bn - and on top of that, people in the lesser developed countries are striving to improve their life meaning that the individual ecological footprints will be increasing. All of that implies that we’ll need to come up with more food – correct?

I strongly believe that sustainable wildlife extraction (which if done correctly (!) comes at no cost to biodiversity!) has to be part of the mix.
Agriculture has been absolutely devastating for terrestrial biota and I just cannot fathom how we’re going to produce that much more food only by increasing productivity and reducing wastage – and if we cannot, we would need to establish more farmland, once again at great ecological cost. That sure cannot be the way forward can it.

Here we are looking at the WA Shark fisheries.
I trust that you’ve read the links and if so, you will discern that it is a food fishery that appears to be quite well managed. Yes there may be imperfections but compared to the bulk of Shark fishing, this is rather stellar – no? I wish all Shark fishing were this well regulated – and I am quite confident that the MSC certification process will improve it even further, if only by making it even more transparent.
So, again, why not support this recipe over the appalling alternative – and again, if the process is flawed as you suggest, let’s get involved in improving it?

Is eating Sharks “necessary”?
Dunno and don’t care.
It is a source of protein and it happens - and in view of the devastation caused by those millions of small artisanal fishermen, I am certainly not willing to make arbitrary differentiations & to give carte blanche to anybody!

Fishing is either sustainable (for which it needs to be managed, and this at all levels!), or it is not.
If it is, I see no reason to oppose it - and if it aint, we need to reform it.

But to me, this looks pretty darn good so I would like to at least give it a chance, establish a precedent and hopefully start seeing more of this as opposed to the current current status quo.

Will there be shenanigans?
Hopefully - because that would imply that there is a viable premium market for sustainable fins which would be a big improvement! :)

Shark Diver said...

A second or even third track for conservation is always a good idea.

Kudos for hammering this one to the gates Mike.

MLK Moment for Sharks?

The notion of "don't touch, don't harvest," flies in the face of regional inshore fisheries not to mention commercial fisheries which, if you have seen one recently, are notoriously hard to curb. Not to mention the elephant in the room, a global population growing to 9B.

9B who will be on the next cure all pills using...wait for it...shark liver oil?

Like the current effort to get Whites re-listed here California.

I ask those who are involved to look into the ws pup catch along the Baja coast (that's in Mexico btw), it's decimating the regional ws pup population, yet a new law in California will do nothing to help this overall and highly migratory group.

Welcome to the shark con world.

So far the smartest con programs I have seen are the few Asian led efforts that are changing the culture from the inside, and that sustainable harvest idea of yours.

The MPA's look good but until some one can show me actual budgets for enforcement (real ones that have longevity) they remain far too fragile and open to raiding for my tastes.

Demand will always be there for sharks and most sea life.

Sorry but this is a cold hard fact.

The shark cons can either:

1. Start to understand how actual markets work and get with the program.

2. Continue on with the Facebook lead day-to-day shark effort de jour, wherein everyone jumps on the latest idea with gusto as long as it's angry and filled with some kind of "gotcha" at the end.

The facts of the shark market start and end with the word "market."

Either play on the level of the market, or forever be on the outside asking for "damn sacrifices" from developed nations.

Good luck with that one.

Markets don't offer sacrifices, markets react to demand pure and simple.

Create the market based platforms for shark fin and meat sales and use those platforms to direct and guide global markets to your desires....

Hmmm, where have I heard this before?

El-Gee said...

Da Shark,

(By means of introduction: I am not a professional in the shark world but I am a shark lover, scuba diver and an amateur/social lobbyist against overfishing, shark finning, and the likes.)

Your arguments make sense and I am tempted to agree with you on this one. Particularly I find your view on the fact that sharks are fish (protein), and therefore not sacred, a very compelling and sober assessment. As a consequence, against my "heart", I need to soberly agree that shark fisheries are a fact of life and they are fair to happen, especially if, of course, like any other involvement in wildlife, they are sustainable.

Where, however, I don't agree with you (and there I tend to agree with Sam), is that the consumption of a shark's fin (I am referring to the fin only) is NOT a source of protein and is furthermore definitely NOT an answer to the protein needs of the next 2 bn people to populate the Earth.

Yes, some criticize us for eating pork and we still eat, so others will still eat shark's fin even if we disapprove. However, both pork meat and shark meat are nourishing sources of protein (idealogies and religion aside). In that sense, I don't think that the pork-eating argument makes shark-fin-consumption valid.

This brings me to the point where I lie between you and Sam: I am totally pro a sustainable shark fishery in WA (and elsewhere) but I do think that ecologically-advanced Nations (read: the Western World + Australia) should lead the way in creating, no matter how long it takes, a public opinion that opposes the consumption of a protein-less shark's fin.

We'll hardly going to be able to change the culture of 1.5 - 2 bn ethnically Chinese people on the planet, but, with respect and firmness, we can say: "We are in favour of feeding the World protein through sustainable shark fishing, but we are against wasting a shark to eat its fin".

And we need to do this NOT because we think shark's fin suck and NOT because we think people shouldn't show off their wealth whichever way they want, but BECAUSE we KNOW that while there is demand for shark's fin there WILL be, for sure, millions and millions of unsustainable fisheries targetting shark's fin.

As such, my point is that the answer to our problem (keeping a global, viable, sustainable, shark population) does not lie in approving a couple of fisheries here and there (read: WA, in this case), it DOES lie in actively promoting the end of consumption of shark's FIN by itself.

As a consequence, my view on this (and this conclusion is the corolary of my above arguments), is that Nations such as Australia should not promote the consumption of shark's fin, and therefore they should ban the sale of shark's fin, no matter how sustainable it is.

This will come at a massive economical (for fishermen) cost in terms of opportunity cost (they'd be angry to have to waste the fin by not selling it), as well as a high political cost for Fisheries Ministries, but it will place Austrlia (and other ecologically advanced Nations) at the high moral stance of saying:

"We recognize that shark's will be decimated, no matter how sustainable our own fisheries are, as long as their fins are eaten. We don't think fins have a protein value either. As such, we are opposed the consumptions of fins. As such, we don't sell fins."

This is what I think Australia should do. And NZ, and Portugal (where I'm from), and Spain, and France, and of course the UK.

DaShark said...

Dear El-Gee

thank you for this.
You got me wrong here - as per e.g. this other post in one of the links, I do not at all, support any Shark fishery that would only keep the fins - for it to be considered sustainable, the whole animal needs to be landed and utilized, which is the case in Western Australia.

So, we appear to be in agreement, no?
Or are you saying that the w Australians should be free to kill and eat the Sharks but that they should throw away the fins for ethical reasons?

What I'm saying is, let's help establish a premium market (+400% in revenue!) for truly sustainably sourced Shark fins and by virtue of that, let's provide for an additional motivation (=increased profitability) for the market to reform towards FULL sustainability.

It's obviously not he whole solution but part of an array of measures including awareness - but as you point out, reforming hundreds of millions of consumers is a tall order indeed! E.g., after 50 years of campaigning, there is still enough demand for ivory to kill the very last Elephant.