WCPFC rejects proposal to protect Pacific sharks from finning
At the WCPFC’s 13th annual meeting December 5-9 in Nadi, Fiji, the WWF and a coalition of other NGOs supported a proposal by the European Union to strengthen rules that will help eliminate finning, which is already outlawed by the WCPFC. Currently, vessels are allowed to remove the fins from the sharks and store them separately from the bodies before returning to port as long as the weight of shark fins on the vessel does not exceed 5% of shark carcasses. The proposal was dropped due to a lack of consensus.
“Justifications for using weight ratios as a measure to prevent finning are not supported by the science.” said Ian Campbell, the WWF Shark and Ray Initiative Manager. “Numerous studies have shown that using fin-to-carcass ratios is an inadequate tool to prevent finning because different shark species have different fin to body weight ratios. This simplistic measure is made even more redundant as fishermen can make different types of cuts when removing the fins, which can change the ratio.”
Information submitted to the WCPFC seemed to back up claims that the existing measuring system is ineffective. The latest report submitted by independent fisheries observers to the WCPFC stated that they found evidence of finning occurring at sea, including species of sharks such as silky and oceanic whitetip, which vessels are not allowed to retain.
Outcomes were equally discouraging for measures to protect manta and mobula rays, as the proposed retention ban – also submitted by the European Union – was rejected. Manta and mobula rays are slow-growing species, which have very low reproductive rates, and are vulnerable to fishing due to the value of their gill plates, which are prized in southern China. The mobula rays were added to CITES Appendix II in October, because of concerns that the international trade in gill plates combined with inadequate fisheries management, is leading to population declines..
“We are particularly disappointed that the WCPFC couldn’t find a way to agree to afford much needed protection for these particularly vulnerable species, especially as similar protection measures have been agreed by other fishery management bodies.” said WWF’s Campbell.
Sharks and rays conservationists did receive some good news. WCPFC scientists have been tasked to review the existing shark and ray conservation measures and develop a comprehensive suite of recommendations to be put forward for consideration at a future meeting.
- The WCPFC is responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and other marine resources in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The members of the WCPFC are: Australia, Canada, China, Cook Islands, European Community, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Korea, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America, and Vanuatu.