Mixed Results for Sharks at Pacific Tuna Commission Meeting

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SAI News Release
Media contact: Liz Morley: 843.693.5044

Member countries agree to protect oceanic whitetip sharks, fail to safeguard whale sharks

Guam. March 30, 2012. Fishing nations of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) have agreed to protect the oceanic whitetip shark based on a proposal from the United States, while an Australian proposal to ban the intentional setting of purse seine nets on whale sharks (to catch associated aggregations of tuna) has been stalled by Japan.

"We are very pleased that WCPFC member countries have heeded advice from scientists and taken decisive action to conserve seriously overfished oceanic whitetip sharks," said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. "This decision - the first species-specific shark protection adopted by this body - should be complemented by additional conservation measures for the region's other vulnerable and overfished shark species in the near future."

Once common, the oceanic whitetip shark is increasingly rare in the region's tropical fisheries. Analyses conducted under the WCPFC Shark Research Plan documented steep population declines and estimated that a 'no retention' policy could reduce oceanic whitetip mortality in fishing operations by up to 76%.

The WCPFC Members agreed to prohibit the retention, transshipment, storage, and landing of oceanic whitetip sharks, and to require that captured individuals of this species are promptly and carefully released, while ensuring that such interactions are reported.

Australia's proposed ban on the deliberate setting of purse seine nets on whale sharks was stalled due to opposition by Japan. The Members did agree, however, to revisit the issue and adopt revised measures at the next WCPFC meeting in December.

"An estimated 75 whale sharks were killed as a result of interactions with the region's purse seine fishery in 2009 and 2010," said Rebecca Regnery, Deputy Director of Wildlife for Humane Society International. "We are perplexed and dismayed by continuing delays in adopting such basic and sensible safeguards for these globally threatened and economically important species."

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies oceanic whitetip and whale sharks as Globally Vulnerable. Whale sharks are listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). Whale shark tourism worldwide has been valued at nearly $50 million. The oceanic whitetip shark was denied CITES listing in 2010, but has since been protected by regional fisheries bodies governing the Eastern Tropical Pacific and the Atlantic.

Sharks are taken incidentally by fishermen seeking more valuable tuna or swordfish, but are also targeted for their fins as well as their meat.

Notes to Editors: Shark Advocates International (SAI) is a project of The Ocean Foundation established to advance science-based policies for sharks and rays. Humane Society International (HSI) is one of the only international animal protection organizations in the world working to protect all animals through programs in more than 35 countries. Together, SAI and HSI staff have decades of expertise as leaders in securing shark finning bans and protections for threatened shark species, particularly in the U.S., Australia, and Europe.

The WCPFC is an international fisheries governing body aimed at ensuring conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. WCPFC members include Australia, China, Canada, Cook Islands, European Union, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Japan, Kiribati, Korea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America, and Vanuatu. Belize, Indonesia, Senegal, Mexico, El Salvador, Ecuador, Vietnam, St. Kitts & Nevis, and Panama are cooperating non-members. Seven Territories (American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and Tokelau) also participate.

The WCPFC focuses on management of fishing vessels that use longlines (fishing line with hooks set at regular intervals) and purse seine gear (large nets that surround schools of fish and cinch at the bottom, much like a drawstring of a "purse"), as well as troll lines, pole and line gear and other small scale fishing methods, including some artisanal methods.

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.