Where are the Pacific sharks going?

sharkIn 1996, only 15 shark species were under threat of extinction. But 15 years down the road and the number of species has neither doubled nor tripled, but it stands at an alarming 180 species. This explains why at the moment, the number of the oceanic white tip shark in the Pacific Ocean has decreased to as little as by 17% annually between 1995 and 2010. On the other hand, the north Pacific blue shark continues to show a decrease of 5% annually in its stock. These sharks are a preference of many chefs in Asia and that is why even stringent fishing bans have failed to save them.

Research findings published in the Conservation Biology journal indicate that overfishing is still a point of concern. In 15 years, data from onboard observers of shark catches in the Western and Central Pacific has revealed a reduction in the average size of the sharks, a vital sign of over-fishing.

According to Shelley Clark, the study’s co-author, in a report given to AFP; increased concerns over the survival of the Pacific Shark populations continue being aired. What is more alarming is the fact that some shark species like the White tip shark which has a very low reproduction rate, has faced a massive population decline. As if that is not enough, the North Pacific blue fin shark, which is more productive compared to the white tip shark, is also facing an increasing decline in numbers.

Findings from another research conducted by the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) show that even after imposition of finning bans, very little has changed. Finning, a practice that involves cutting fins off a living shark and dumping it back to the ocean to die is widely practiced since there is high demand for shark fins, a soup delicacy, which the fishermen are trying to meet.

Therefore, more sharks continue getting killed and the poor-law enforcement and increasing markets for shark meat are not helping the situation. For instance, even with 180 species of sharks under threat of extinction, only the Oceanic White tip shark species is subject to catch limits. Findings from WWF, a conservation group, show that about 73 million sharks die annually and most of these are finning deaths. Hong Kong leads the pack in shark fin imports with an annual import of 10,000 tonnes which amounts to about 50 percent of the global fin trade. Most of this shipment is re-exported to China’s mainland which has a very high shark fin demand. In Asia, shark fin soup is a special delicacy that is widely served in weddings, parties and business banquets.

Sharks grow and mature at a slow pace. Additionally, they have low reproduction rates since they produce few young ones. Therefore, when left at the mercy of fishermen, their numbers are at great risk. Messages from conservationists continue to say that the current measures set to protect sharks are not enough to reverse their population decrease.

It was until the year 2000 that the United States government banned finning in its waters. Some American states have gone a step ahead to ban fin trade. In Europe, the EU imposed its finning ban in 2003. In addition, the EU endorsed stringent shark fishing regulations that need fishermen to bring the sharks intact to the port.

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