Mixed Results for Sharks at Pacific Tuna Commission Meeting

Member countries agree to protect oceanic whitetip sharks, fail to safeguard whale sharks
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. 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, ” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International.

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 is 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.

This is a press release by our partner organisation Shark Advocates International in cooperation with the Humane Society International