Indian Ocean Tuna Commission Fails Sharks

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SAI News Release
Media contact: Liz Morley: 843.693.5044

Fishing nations reject even bare minimum measures for threatened species

Colombo, Sri Lanka (March 22, 2011). Shark Advocates International is expressing deep disappointment at the failure of Parties to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) to act on shark conservation proposals at their annual meeting this week. Proposed protections for threatened hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks were defeated and the ban on finning (slicing off a shark's fins and discarding the body at sea) was not strengthened. Parties could not even agree to require the reporting of shark catch data for any of eight categories recommended by scientists.

"The complete failure of Indian Ocean fishing nations to agree even the most basic measures for the region's most endangered sharks is deeply distressing and does not bode well for the future of these highly vulnerable and heavily fished species," said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International, who attended the meeting as an observer. "We thank the European Union and Australia for their valiant efforts to secure shark safeguards this week, and encourage their persistence in carrying this work forward to next year's meeting."

The European Union (EU) had proposed protections for hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks, and earned support from Australia and the United Kingdom. Most developing countries, particularly India and Pakistan, opposed protecting hammerheads. Japan led the charge to defeat the oceanic whitetip ban despite championing the same measure at the tuna commission for the Atlantic.

Australia and the EU proposed expanding the list of sharks for which fishing data collection is mandatory by eight categories, as recommended by IOTC scientists. Opposition from China, the Republic of Korea, and Japan led to a compromise to collect data on fewer shark species, but the deal fell through after Maldives, Sri Lanka, and India objected to the larger data collection package.

The fins of hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks are prized for use in shark fin soup, a celebratory Asian dish. Scalloped hammerheads, classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Endangered, are heavily fished, even as pups, and "very often" finned, according to IOTC scientists.

Australia had also proposed changing the enforcement rules for the IOTC finning ban by requiring that fins be attached to shark bodies at landing. Conservationist groups support leaving the fins on, but opposed options for re-attachment. Parties did not reach consensus on any of these options.

Shark Advocates International (SAI) is a project of The Ocean Foundation established to provide leadership in advancing sound policies for sharks and rays. Based on nearly 20 years of shark conservation achievement, SAI works to secure science-based limits on shark fishing and trade, protection for endangered species, and stronger bans on shark finning.

Great Hammerhead
Great Hammerhead