Monday, August 19, 2013

Managing and Protecting Sharks in the Central and Western Pacific - Report!

Read this - seriously, do!

Yes it's a bloody mess!
Shelley Clarke has analyzed the status of the current Shark management and conservation measures in the WCPFC and comes to the conclusion that essentially, the current framework is not working. 
There is a lack of specific and uniform objectives, there are no adequate stock assessments and research, the fishing data are highly questionable and sketchy, there are not nearly enough observers, overfishing continues, Shark mortality is not being reduced, finning is rampant, compliance, implementation, monitoring and enforcement are inadequate - in brief, it continues to essentially be a free-for-all and even where there is a willingness to do the right thing (which is certainly not a given everywhere), the managing authorities are hopelessly outmatched and any improvements under the present regime appear highly questionable.

As just one example, take the case of finning - remember?
Here's what the report states.
Finning rates are lower than they were prior to the effective date of the cornerstone measure but they do not appear to be continually decreasing.

Furthermore, finning continues at levels of ~15‐25% in the purse seine fishery and 30‐40% in the longline fishery. Although the reduced finning rates in the purse seine fishery are encouraging, most sharks in the purse seine fishery will already be dead when they reach the vessel, therefore this reduction in finning is likely to translate into only a very small increase in survival. 

Furthermore, according to catch estimates for 2010, the longline fishery catches over ten times as many of the key shark species as the purse seine fishery does (Lawson 2011), and therefore effects in the longline fishery will be considerably more important to shark populations. With the reduction in finning rates, it appears that the percentage of observed sharks that are released alive in the longline fishery has increased, but it is not known how many of these survive and the percentage of sharks with confirmed mortality remains above 72% in all but one year (2010). 
In summary, on the basis of existing information the expected benefit of the cornerstone measure to sharks in terms of increased survival appears negligible.

Starting with ICCAT in 2004, and followed by IATTC and IOTC in 2005, and CCSBT in 2008, all of the other tuna RFMOs have adopted a 5% fins‐to-carcass ratio as a means of controlling shark finning. Most of these measures have similar provisions relating to the mitigation of fishing impacts to sharks including waste minimization and encouraging live release.

Several problems have arisen with regard to interpretation of the 5% fins-to‐carcass ratio (Fowler and Séret 2010, Biery and Pauly 2012, Santana‐Garcon et al. 2012). 

First, while provision is made in the measures for the ratio to be reviewed and modified, it is now well‐understood that the actual ratio of fins‐to‐carcass weight will vary by species, the number of fins utilized from each shark, and the type of cut used to remove the fins from the carcass. Nevertheless, none of the ratios have been amended since the measures were adopted. Second, the measures do not make clear whether the ratio applies to fresh or dried fins, and to what form of the carcass (i.e. whole weight, dressed or partially dressed carcass) the fins are to be compared. These interpretation issues, along with the difficulties of weighing fins and carcasses in an enforcement setting, have led some countries to replace fins‐to‐carcass ratios with national requirements for fins to remain attached to the carcass until landing (IUCN SSG 2013).

Although similar measures have been discussed within tuna RFMO forums for several years, to date no tuna RFMO has adopted a fins‐attached policy.
See what I mean?
Finning is certainly one of the least controversial issues insofar as everybody agrees that in theory, it must go - but look at the mess they've made when implementing the ban!
And, it does not reduce Shark mortality anyway!

And what about Clarke's other recommendations?
Check out the WCPFC members and other parties to the treaty in the link above, and then, re-read this post. Many of those members are the very countries who have obliterated their own marine resources and whose distant water fleets are now pillaging the Fish stocks in the Pacific. They have zero interest in promoting any sustainability and continue to use dirty politics in order to block any positive developments as last seen in December. And if those folks cannot adequately manage the Tuna stocks despite of knowing what needs to be done - do you really think that anybody is going to bother investing their scarce resources into the management of Sharks that in the big scheme of things are merely an afterthought?
Only glimmer of hope: the PNA members that comprise several countries that have already enacted Shark sanctuaries and that continue to show those foreign fleets who is boss whilst raking in ever increasing revenues!

And that's only the beginning!
CITES 2 compliance, i.e. the implementation of all the necessary paperwork but above all, the onus of proving that Sharks are being managed sustainably is just around the corner! Think that any of those Pacific island countries that have not declared a sanctuary will be able to meet their obligations - the more as compliance is subject to public scrutiny?

Oh yes we're back to square one - read this post!
Clarke's recommendations are theoretically impeccable - but let me re-iterate that in practice, they will, if at all, take years to implement whilst the indiscriminate overfishing will continue. It's the old ways and by now everybody should agree that those have been weighed, tested and found wanting.

Right now, what works are those sanctuaries.
They are the new, elegant and practicable solution - not for eternity but as stop gap measures, until adequate management measures have been implemented. And the onus for making that happen lays squarely with the fishing industry and the trade: it is they who control their own behavior, it is they who know how and where they fish and what they catch and trade, its is they who make the profits - and it is they that can easily make the necessary changes and then fork out the money in order to prove that what they do is legit!

And what about us?
Screaming is easy - following through much more difficult and certainly way less glamorous.

So what's it gonna be?
A whole lotta noise for ultimately zero outcome like the occupy movement, or in the case of Sharks, quite possibly those Canadian and US fin bans - or should we maybe tone it down a bit and advocate smart, pragmatic and hopefully, effective and efficient policies instead? 
Maybe even start thinking outside of the box?

The choice, as always, is ours!


Unknown said...

I am looking forward to seeing you lay out the scientific evidence that shark sanctuaries work

DaShark said...

As you well know, there is none.

There are no baseline counts, and stock assessments as per Clarke are poor at best. Another possible source of data could be the Shark fin market (= are less fins being exported from sanctuaries compared to before) and I understand that people are looking into it.

But the fact that there is no scientific evidence does not mean that the sanctuaries do not work - it simply means that there is no scientific evidence.

For now, we'll have to rely on anecdotal observations, and those point to reduced Shark fishing pressure and higher density of Sharks compared to places where Sharks are being fished.
It's not perfect by any means as poaching does continue to happen and enforcement is still being hampered by lack of resources and possibly also resolve - but places like Palau, the Marshalls and Honduras are at least trying.

Your alternative as per your published article would be science based species conservation = proper fisheries management - yes in theory, clearly no in practice, at least not right here right now.
Look at the endless debates about the Tuna (that are subject to species conservation but where nobody appears to be listening to the scientists) and at how in the meantime, stocks continue to shrink - and there at least people care!

So are we just gonna sit and wait, or are we gonna act proactively and enact blanket bans pending the development and implementation of those proper management measures.

DaShark said...


And this is why I believe they work!