Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shark Finning Bans - good enough?

Stuff is happening in South & Central America.
Chile has banned Shark finning in 2011; Costa Rica and Colombia are establishing a task force to combat Shark poaching; as of January, shark finning is illegal in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic and the Shark fin trade is being monitored.

Yes this is progress - but is it good enough?
According to this interview with Rándall Aráuz of PRETOMA, the principal shark fishing vessels operating in Costa Rican waters hail from Taiwan, Korea, China and Japan. With the at least tacit complicity of the Institudo Costarricense de Pesca INCOPESCA, they have been exploiting loopholes and flaunting the Costa Rican finning bans for years by first landing the fins at private docks and then re-routing the trade through Nicaragua when that became illegal.
This is big business, smells of corruption and organized crime and is thus difficult to combat.

And then, there's this.
As those big foreign fleets are depleting what used to be their traditional fishing grounds, the small artisanal fishermen are increasingly becoming desperate. As anybody who has ever dived there knows, the Pacific coast of South and Central America has been the scene of widespread poaching for Sharks for years. The principal targets are the protected Shark hotspots, i.e. the Galapagos, Gorgona, Malpelo, Coiba, Cocos and the very remote Clipperton, and the principal perpetrators are small long lining and drift netting vessels from Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico, often once again at the expense of the local fishermen as per this interview from the Galapagos.

It really is a vicious circle.
The poaching triggers more poaching and whenever the perpetrators are being caught but then released as in this ignominious case in the Galapagos, it only reinforces the perception that all of this can be done in total impunity. And as the prices for the fins increase and markets for Shark meat and Shark products expand, it becomes increasingly economical to land the animals with the fins attached - and this even when the meat is being sold for a mere pittance or dumped in land fills as is apparently already happening in the US.
The result: the Sharks continue to be killed in record numbers - meaning that those finning bans are (valid) ethical causes but do not anymore save Sharks, at least not in sufficient numbers to really make a difference.

As I wrote here, the finning bans are archaic and ineffective, the latter because they require a huge amount of monitoring, enforcement and prosecution that often simply do not exist - and of course, the fishermen know that all too well and will cleverly exploit any weaknesses in the system. It's a matter of resources but also, of the necessary political will.

Hence my advocacy of Sanctuaries.
These must encompass the fishing per se but also address the enormous issue of Shark bycatch by prohibiting determined particularly harmful techniques - and within the country and its EEZ, the legislation must also prohibit the possession and trade of Sharks and Shark part all the way to import and export bans. Plus as I never cease to repeat, anybody engaging in advocacy in lesser developed countries has also a moral obligation to contribute to capacity building in monitoring, enforcement and prosecution.

This I believe is the best strategy.
Compared to the partial solution of finning bans, it is also BY FAR the easiest and cheapest to monitor and enforce as it is comparatively simple insofar as any commercial activity involving Sharks becomes illegal by definition.

Or as Matt Rand says

“Enforcement at port does not require additional -infrastructure, and additional training costs for customs and port officials can be minimal,” he says. “For this reason, Pew advocates for measures that prohibit the possession, trade, or sale of sharks or shark products as part of a nation’s shark sanctuary regulation or legislation. With no way to legally land or export sharks or shark fins at domestic ports, the incentive to target sharks is reduced, if not completely eliminated.
Boats catching sharks are forced to go farther and use more fuel to get to ports where they can offload their catch.”

Finning bans, although certainly better than no legislation at all, are often little more than band-aid solutions aimed at appeasing the environmentalists whilst not tackling the politically difficult issue of reducing Shark mortality, something that would pin the authorities against the lobby of the fishermen. Thus, finning bans often come at the direct expense of further-reaching legislation that would effectively save Sharks - and isn't that what we should be aiming for?
In brief, they are poor Shark conservation.

You may want to think about it next time you see one of those petitions.
For the Sharks, we can and must do better.

No comments: