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A global shark conservation challenge from Palau and Micronesia

Yesterday afternoon, the Presidents of Honduras and Palau challenged other world leaders to follow their example by protecting sharks. Both nations have banned shark fishing within their territorial waters, and they are encouraging other nations (both rich countries with fishing fleets and poor coastal countries) to do the same. This announcement was timed to coincide with a high-level United Nations meeting to review millennium development and global biodiversity conservation goals.

The two Presidents had this to say:

“We have done what we can in Palau’s waters to save these magnificent masters of the sea,” said President Toribiong of Palau, who announced the world’s first national shark sanctuary at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly session in 2009.  “We have found that healthy shark populations keep our marine environment healthy and our tourism industry thriving.  However, if unregulated overfishing of sharks throughout the world’s oceans continues, small island states such as ours will lose a vital resource, and the oceans on which our very lives depend will be irrevocably altered.”

“Our decision to protect sharks was made not just for this generation but for generations to come,” said President Lobo of Honduras, whose government announced a moratorium on all shark fishing in Honduran waters in February of this year.  “The price of shark fins for the global trade drives fishermen to skirt or break limits on fishing and finning that would otherwise conserve shark populations.   We call on other governments to join us in protecting sharks in their waters, for the sake of healthy coastal marine ecosystems and economic development.”

The Pew environment group, who recently organized the rally of shark attack survivors, was also involved.

“Scientists have linked shark overfishing to imbalances in fish populations, the collapse of non-shark fisheries and the degradation of coral reefs,” said Joshua Reichert, Managing Director of the Pew Environment Group. “Palau and Honduras are global leaders in shark conservation and we call upon coastal nations and countries with large commercial fishing fleets to accept their challenge and take action.”

I’ll have much more on this exciting development as it unfolds. I have contacted representatives from the governments of Palau and Honduras, as well as Pew, to request more information.

In the meantime, here is an early reaction. Marine protected areas are extremely helpful in certain situations, but they don’t help animals that don’t remain within their boundaries, and they don’t help anything if they aren’t enforced. Many sharks swim huge distances every year. However, many shark species have small home ranges. If the Presidents of Palau and Honduras are able to convinced other world leaders to help protect sharks, this announcement will be a huge success. At the very least, it’s exciting to see politicians talking about such an important issue instead of just ignoring it.

However, as I said in “The problem, the goal, and how to get there“, I don’t necessarily think that a complete ban on shark fishing is necessary. I have no objection to sustainably fishing for shark meat, though I do strongly object to unsustainably finning. In short, this is a huge step, but we still have a lot of work to do.

~WhySharksMatter

Thanks to Angelo, who made sure that Rick MacPherson and I were kept in the loop about this announcement. Rick’s post can be found here.