Protection of sharks is going forward, unfortunately only slowly

Just now I am attending the conference of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) on Mauritius.

This is a fishing agreement for the Indian Ocean that we are talking about. Destiny and – in the end – survival of some shark species is being discussed intensely. The air is getting thinner for sharks all around the world, especially for hammerhead - and oceanic whitetip sharks.

Their populations have been reduced by up to 90% in some places.

That is why the international trade with those sharks was already restricted at the CITES - protection of species conference in March 2013 in Bangkok.

The fishery ban on oceanic whitetip sharks proposed by the EU was only accepted by Japan and China after long discussions and a lot of changes.

Furthermore, this fishery ban is only valid for three years – for the time being. It was literally at the eleventh that this agreement was made – after the translators had already gone home for the day.

It is very disappointing that Japan and China used the excuse of fishing sharks for the purpose of scientific research – and  in this matter they did not “want to rush into decisions” – to block the additional and urgently needed protection measurements for hammerhead sharks and silky sharks.

Fateful tactics, as it will lead to those species being extinct in the Japanese and Chinese waters in a short while.

But thank goodness there were also some very committed people to be found at the conference – such as the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture for the Maledives – who could not tire of clarifying how necessary the introduction of timely protection measures is.

The ban for using tuna purse-seine netting on whale sharks or whales may also be counted as one of the conference’s successes.

As tuna fish often travel together with whale sharks or whales – and it is much easier to spot those large animals – it is common practice to use purse-seine netting on the sharks or whales, hoping to catch tuna at the same time. The whales’ and whale sharks' death is being accepted as collateral damage.

This sort of fishing used to be common practice also in the Indian Ocean so far – and is supposed to be brought to a termination through this decision.

Even though we could breathe a sigh of relief in the end – as we had reached  at least a partial success – those three preceding days were very frustrating.

Things were being discussed in all directions in order to allow for the lowest possible quantity of protection measures – no matter how urgently they are needed.

In the end we were happy about any sort of small progress even if those steps will be taken much more slowly on an international level than species are being driven to extinction on this planet.

Protection of sharks is going forward – but only very slowly.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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