Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sharks in Fiji - Status Report!

Blacktip Reef Shark - one of the species that is increasingly being targeted for food. 
Stellar pic by Ozzie Sam!

So what about Helen's report.
And I cite
So far no significant decrease in coastal shark populations has been seen, good news for those of us fearing that shark-fin fishing was continuing to damage shark stocks, but we can only confirm this one way or the other by continuing these surveys over the long term.
Yes and no!
But first, watch Eli's video!

Bravo Eli, totally agree!

See what I mean?
This is obviously Mexico where the situation appears particularly grim - but having conducted additional investigations that will be disclosed in due course, I can reveal that the situation here in Fiji is slowly trending that way, too. 

Here and throughout the Pacific Islands, coastal fisheries are at risk
Much of the fishing is clearly unsustainable and as a consequence, many of the prized big reef Fishes have disappeared at least around the principal islands, or have become simply too expensive - and the once reviled Sharks are being increasingly fished and consumed as an alternative source of protein. Furthermore, Sea Cucumber stocks have all but collapsed, to the point that a single White Teatfish now yields a staggering 150 dollars, notabene to the fisherman - and as a consequence, the traders are diversifying into Shark fins and further driving the depletion of both Sharks but also Guitarfishes whose fins have a high count of ceratotrichia, the ingredient of the infamous soup.

Yes stocks overall show no signs of depletion - yet.
But they do in selected hotspots, and on our dive, we are recording the disappearance of many of our named Shark. So far, numbers-wise, they are being replaced by the many new sub-adults - and incidentally, remember Catlin et al
But if I go through the list, old beloved regulars like Kinky, Cilla, Fold, Second, Valerie, Lee, Crease, Twist, possibly Sickle, Moana, Ms Big, Jaws, JJ, Chopper and probably also Scarface have all been MIA for a long time indeed which is really breaking our heart - so you can maybe understand my elation at seeing Bumphead after close to a year of absence!

Obviously, a drastic improvement of the management of all fisheries (= even if we selectively protected the Sharks, how would they survive without their prey?) - for which we need better data!
This combined with much better regulation of the trade - the more since at present, it is not even being regulated by Fisheries but instead, only by the local municipalities! And please, more fully legislated, well enforced and smartly managed full no-take MPAs with sufficient connectivity so that their effect is bigger than the sum of their physical areas, together with the protection of critical habitat like the nurseries and spawning aggregation sites.

And the oceanic Sharks?
There the situation in Fiji is much much better!
Thanks to the remarkable progress and the hard work of many good people at CITES, CMS and the WCPFC, all the principal commercially viable oceanic Sharks with exception of the Blues and Makos are de facto fully protected as Fiji cannot be bothered with all that paperwork and has decided to simply prohibit the fishing, landing and trading of those species. But of course implementation may still be somewhat sketchy, and the important issue of incidental mortality remains largely unresolved.

Possibly better implementation, certainly once again better regulation of the trade and once again, data data data about that incidental mortality!

Long story short?
Fiji's Sharks are still doing relatively well and no, we certainly don't need a Sanctuary that is IMO presently not feasible politically anyway. And we definitely (!) need no more breathy public campaigns and no more trotting out of the usual charlatans that will only piss off the powers that be, the more as they are very much aware of, and are presently actively addressing the problems at hand.

There is no urgent Shark crisis in Fiji - so, let's do things right.
What we do need is sufficient resources in order to assist the Fisheries Department, Customs, Biosecurity, the Police, the Judiciary etc in better implementing the present legislation; what we do need is a new coastal fisheries law that includes smart management strategies; what we do need is new regulation of the trade in marine products; and in the specific case of Sharks, what we do need is better data so we can preempt and intervene when and if necessary.

Any takers for lending a helping hand?

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