Monday, March 09, 2015

Micronesia Shark Sanctuary - Bycatch Retention?

I gotta be careful with this one.

So, first things first.
Huge congrats to Pew, the Micronesia Conservation Trust and a plethora of individuals and smaller orgs for having assisted the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia, and President Mori in finally passing the "Shark Bill" that establishes the Micronesian Shark Sanctuary. Together with the sanctuaries in the Marshall Islands, Guam, the Marianas and Palau, this represents the largest area of shark protection in the world.

But this press release irritates me, and I cite.
Importantly, the new law also allows all types of by-catch, in addition to sharks, to be utilized in the future. This provision alone has the potential to help boost the economy, while at the same time create a new industry for the local production of livestock feed, which should cut down on the import of livestock feed and create job opportunities.
The announcement years ago stated that the sanctuary would make it illegal to fish for sharks and outlaw the trade in shark fins, this release states that the law includes the prohibition of possessing, handling and selling of shark and shark fin in all of FSM’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and the Shark Defenders educate us that a shark sanctuary is a national-level fishing regulation established through decree, legislation, or regulation amendment, which bans the commercial fishing of sharks throughout a country’s full exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

And the reality, i.e. the "Shark Bill"?
I've gone digging and have found it here.
I've read it more times than I care to count and I still cannot find any explicit Shark fishing and/or trading ban. Instead, the way I read it and assuming this is the entire, final document (is it?), it does not explicitly ban the fishing of Sharks (and if so, can this be called a sanctuary?) but only mandates that if any Shark is caught alive, it must be returned to the sea alive whereas dead Sharks may not be discarded but must be instead landed whole, thus outlawing finning. And if so, at least according to what I can see, any "legal" by-caught Shark and its parts including the fins can then be possessed and traded freely.
Or am I missing something here - maybe a subsequent regulation or the like?

Here's the good news.
By mandating that all Sharks be landed whole, it is assured that managers are able to assess Shark mortality and possibly enact better management measures; and the wire leader ban offers some degree of protection against incidental bycatch.

But is that "bycatch" really gonna be accidental = unwanted?
If the FSM establishes that livestock feed industry, it will require a regular supply of by-caught Sharks and Fishes - meaning that the fishermen will be incentivized to ensure that all Sharks are being caught dead, and to lie by claiming that all landed Sharks were caught dead even when they may have been caught alive.
Yes the wire leader ban offers some degree of protection - but this only in determined situations and with determined species, see e.g. here. Plus, there's those deadly purse seines and gill nets, there are those Shark lines, soaking times can be extended to make sure the Sharks drown - in brief, there is plenty of scope for shenanigans.
And to make things worse, there will now be legal and illegal Sharks and fins that look identical and that will make enforcement practically impossible.

Long story short?
Like I said, I gotta be careful as I may have misinterpreted the document, or there may be other provisions I ignore - but if this is like I unfortunately suspect, then matters are far from ideal and the legislation presents titanic challenges.
For this Bill to result in an effective reduction of Shark mortality, there would have to be a) an explicit ban on targeting Sharks, b) a fin trading ban, to remove the biggest economic temptation, c) further reaching bycatch mitigation measures and d) full observer coverage on all vessels in order to reduce cheating.
Regarding the latter, the reality is that whereas observer coverage in the purse seine fishery is good, that in the longline fishery is dismal, see here, with no significant improvement in sight.

I trust this is not simply a cold blooded exercise in BS - but still, this smells like somebody has taken his eyes off the ball whilst at the very last minute, some fisheries interests have smuggled in language that will effectively torpedo the whole exercise. With all the above caveats - this is not even a SINO, this is just simply not a sanctuary to begin with!

Not impressed, sorry.
Or am I missing something here?


Shark Diver said...

I agree with most of what you say. One point though. You mention a lack of language that prohibits the targeting of sharks. Doesn't the fact that it says a live shark has to be released, essentially say the same thing? Why target sharks, only to have to release them?

That's my take on it, but I'm not a lawyer, so maybe this is difference is indeed opening a can of worms.

DaShark said...

What it should have said is "don't target Sharks".
That would at least preempt some gear that is meant to catch them, like drum lines an the like.

This way, if you want to fish for Sharks, all you need to do is ensure that they come up dead - and there's plenty of ways of ensuring that, like leaving out a net or line overnight. And of course lie about it as barring a witness = observer, nobody can prove otherwise.

If this is intended to protect Sharks by reducing mortality, it is just simply unenforceable.

Ian Campbell said...

There are some good intentions in this legislation, but what it does highlight is the glaring fact that there is no way of verifying what is happening at sea.

On long-lines, there is barely 2% coverage of all the vessels at sea, yet no-one is pushing this hard enough.

The fins naturally attached will be of use to increase the data on what the mortality levels within FSM are.

This declaration is a very good first step, but that is what it is. The laws and CMMs will need refining. Let's hope that this isn't seen as "job done", but more "job started".

Leo Falcam Jr. said...

Thank you, World Wildlife Fund for recognizing that the government of the Federated States of Micronesia does not have bad intentions. I will be sure to share your expert opinion with the President.

DaShark said...

Well, gee, Leo.

Will you tell him about the lousy execution as well?