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ABOUT ELASMODVR

ANDY MURCH BIO

 

WHAT IS ELASMODIVER?

Not just Shark Pictures: Elasmodiver contains photos of sharks, skates, rays, and chimaera's from around the world. Elasmodiver began as a simple web based shark field guide to help divers find the best places to encounter the different species of sharks and rays that live in shallow water but it has slowly evolved into a much larger project containing information on all aspects of shark diving and shark photography.

There are now more than 10,000 shark pictures  and sections on shark evolution, biology, and conservation. There is a large library of reviewed shark books, a constantly updated shark taxonomy page, a monster list of shark links, and deeper in the site there are numerous articles and stories about shark encounters. Elasmodiver is now so difficult to check for updates, that new information and pictures are listed on an Elasmodiver Updates Page that can be accessed here:

WHAT'S NEW?

Shark picture - green sawfish

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SHARKS AND RAYS UNDER THREAT

Fisherman loading dead sharks picture

Below is a selection of articles demonstrating the decline of shark and ray species due to overfishing and pollution. Many species have crashed in the last decade and are now on the brink of commercial extinction. If we wish to save these creatures we have to take action immediately.  The only realistic way to ensure the survival of many species is to impose a worldwide moratorium  and enforce it with penalties that are great enough to serve as a deterrent to unscrupulous fishing companies. 

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW

Firstly, ensure that you are not part of the problem: Never eat sharkfin soup and refuse to patronize restaurants that do. Avoid any medicines or supplements that profess to utilizing the healing power of shark cartilage or any other part of a shark. Don't buy shark teeth (unless fossilized), shark jaws, or any items made with shark skin.

Secondly, Get active: Join groups that are working to ban over fishing. THE SHARK TRUST in the UK is active in lobbying against finning and puts pressure on governments to outlaw long-lining of sharks.  SEA SHEPHERD takes a more radical approach. They have a ship on permanent patrol at the Galapagos Islands, and have been responsible for disrupting illegal long-lining in the marine park. THE OCEAN CONSERVANCY petitions the US government on issues often directly related to the over fishing of sharks and rays. Please contact these groups and others listed on our links page. For an overview of the achievements and mandates of some of these organizations visit the ACTIVISTS SAVING SHARKS page.

 

You can also help directly by supporting the Predators in Peril Project which aims to raise awareness about the plight of lesser known sharks and rays.

 

 

 

BECOME INFORMED - READ WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE TRYING TO TELL US.....

The High Price of Shark Fin Soup - Malaysian Naturalist Dec 2006

Illegal Shark Fishing Devastates Populations in Northern Australia - Australian Institute of Marine Sciences Newsletter September 2006

Gangetic sharks face extinction - The Times of India 23 July 2005

Slaughter in Paradise: J'accuse - Galapagos devastation March 28, 2005

More sharks added to IUCN Red List - Reuters 30th June 2004

Oceanic whitetip sharks virtually extinct along Texas Coast By DINA CAPPIELLO Houston Chronicle Environment Writer Feb 2004 

Fewer fish swim the sea - Baltimore Sun dogfish story 11th Aug 2003

Asian Shark-Fin Trade May Be Larger Than Expected - National Geographic News 28/04/ 2003

The dogfish debate - The Philadelphia Enquirer 10th Feb 2003 

Shark decline news - from the New York Times. 17/01/2003

Shark finning - from Defenders Magazine. Winter 2002/3

North Sea in crisis as skate dies out - from The Guardian. 21/03/ 2002

Sea Shepherd Crew Exposes Shark Finning Operation in Puntarenas  05/06/2002

To get an idea of the number of species that are currently critically threatened by overfishing and habitat loss, view an excerpt from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species HERE.  


The High Price of Shark Fin Soup

Malaysian Naturalist Dec 2006 by Andy Murch

 

Shark fin soup was once a delicacy reserved for special occasions but a 2006 study conducted by Fisheries Scientist Shelley Clarke indicates that up to 73 million sharks are now being killed annually to supply the fin trade. This is three times higher than the official catch statistics reported to the FAO because it includes new data taken from illegal shark fin traders who do not report their catches.

The soup’s increasing popularity is linked to the continuing growth of the Chinese economy. Now that more people can afford to buy shark fin soup, the demand has sent the price of fins sky rocketing. This has led to an increase in shark finning activity that is putting stress on shark populations all over the world.

The act of shark finning is extremely barbaric. As the sharks are dragged onto the boat their prized fins are sliced off. To avoid losing precious cargo space, the valueless carcasses are then tossed back into the sea where, unable to swim, they sink to the seabed and drown. This wasteful practice has been outlawed in many countries including the USA but policing the shark fishing industry is very difficult and illegal shark finning fleets continue to drive shark stocks towards extinction. 

The problem is that sharks grow very slowly. Some species can take more than 20 years to reach sexual maturity which means that they run a high risk of being caught before they are able to produce the next generation. Sharks also have very few offspring. Unlike bony fishes that release millions of eggs each year, sharks incubate their young internally and only give birth to between 1 and 50 pups depending on the species. Of these, only a few will survive the first year. As the ocean’s apex predators this reproductive strategy serves them well. Their low birth rate ensures that they will not overrun their food supply but unfortunately it also means that they are unable to respond to increased fishing pressure.

A recent study in the Gulf of Mexico found that the Oceanic Whitetip Shark population has been reduced by a staggering 99 percent and researchers speculate that many other shark species are in a similar position.

To combat rampant shark finning the IUCN Shark Specialist Group has proposed a limit on the fin to body weight ratio of landed sharks. This discourages shark fishermen from discarding carcasses at sea but it does not specifically limit the number of sharks that they may land. It is a band aid solution that has slowed down some shark finners but it has driven others underground.

While monitoring the shark fishing industry is important, educating consumers is just as critical. Sharks are vanishing from our oceans at an alarming rate and the outlook is not an attractive one. Without sharks, the incidence of disease among fish species will increase. Some marine populations will explode leading to crashes among others and the eventual breakdown of the entire marine ecosystem. A high price to pay for a bowl of soup.

 


ILLEGAL SHARK FISHING DEVASTATES POPULATIONS IN NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
Excerp from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences Newsletter. September 2006

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is threatening Australia's shark populations. Driven by increasing demand for shark fin in Asian markets, conservative estimates suggest that the fishery illegally extracts tens-of-thousands of sharks from Australian waters each year.

An AIMS research programme demonstrated a striking difference in the abundance and species richness of sharks on fished and unfished reefs in the biologically diverse oceanic shoals of northern Australia (where illegal shark fishing is particularly intense). Sharks were found to be anywhere from 4 to 17 times less abundant at fished reefs.

AIMS scientist Dr Mark Meekan believes the full extent of the destruction caused by this fishery is still unknown.

"In Australia, the illegal shark fishery is becoming increasingly sophisticated with nets replacing longlines and electronic navigation systems becoming commonplace. The sharks considered most valuable for the fin trade, Silvertip Whalers Carcharhinus albimarginatus and Scalloped Hammerheads Sphyrna lewini, have been virtually eliminated from the northern reefs accessed by illegal fishermen."

The projected devastation caused by shark fishing in Australia's northern waters has prompted intense ecological research in this area. As top predators, sharks play an important role in maintaining ecosystem health and shark population size is often used as an indicator of environmental health for marine systems. The removal of sharks from the ecosystem will drastically impact marine biodiversity.

"Further research is critical to assess the current status of shark populations, to understand the ecological damage to the region's marine ecosystems and to explore potential solutions to the problem."

AIMS is using a new cutting-edge technology called BRUVS (baited remote underwater video stations) to assess the local effects of the shark fin fishery. The BRUVS use video to record numbers of sharks and can be deployed into deep water habitats that are inaccessible to divers. Sophisticated software developed by AIMS, facilitates accurate fish identification and rapid analysis of the video footage.

Scientists from AIMS will continue to comprehensively monitor the oceanic shoals, building on a 10-year time series of data. Population analyses of both sharks and reef fishes on reefs exposed to and protected from fishing (both legal and illegal) will provide insight into the extent of the IUU impact in northern Australia. In addition to using the information collected by BRUVS, AIMS researchers (in partnership with CSIRO) will get on board with The Australian Customs Service to identify the composition of illegal shark catches from seized boats. Using genetic technologies in combination with precise measurements, the team will identify the species and sizes of captured sharks from the confiscated fins. This information will help researchers determine the types of sharks that are targeted by IUU fishing.

 


SHARK DECLINE NEWS

From the New York Times:

January 17, 2003          Atlantic Sharks Found in Rapid Decline    By ANDREW C. REVKIN


Shark populations in the northwest Atlantic Ocean have plunged by more than half since scientists began keeping careful track in 1986, with marquee species like the hammerhead and the great white falling more than 75 percent, researchers are reporting.

Such an abrupt decline in the ocean's dominant hunters could substantially alter marine food chains in ways that are impossible to predict and might take decades to reverse, the researchers and other experts said.

The researchers, from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, ascribed the drop to intensifying commercial and recreational fishing for sharks, which reproduce slowly compared with other oceanic fish. They described their findings today in the journal Science.

The Dalhousie researchers, led by Julia K. Baum, a doctoral candidate at the university, said similar declines had probably occurred elsewhere and that "pervasive overfishing of these species may initiate major ecological changes."

They said there was no evidence that the decline was the result of any natural cycle, partly because similar trends have been recognized in the Pacific and other waters under heavy fishing pressure.

Other biologists had reported declines in shark populations in particular coastal areas, but several experts not involved in the new study said it provided the first detailed overview of an oceanwide decline with broad implications.

"This is a very important synthesis," said Dr. James F. Kitchell, a biologist at the University of Wisconsin who specializes in the role of predators in ecosystems. "Like the ax and the plow, the hook and the net can create major changes in ecological structure and function. We've been fishing the top off the food web."

The impacts on other marine life, shark prey and other predators, remain unknown, but could last for generations, other experts said.

"It's a giant experiment, and we're not just playing in the laboratory here," said Dr. Robert E. Hueter, the director of the center for shark research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla. "We're playing with the future of our marine food resources."

Shark experts said that the decline in sharks was unlikely to affect the number of attacks on humans, which remain rare, and in any event are mainly the result of the rising number of people in the water.

In the area studied, which included coastal and deep waters from Newfoundland to northern Brazil, only mako sharks showed no substantial drop in numbers, the scientists said. The mako ranges widely offshore.

The researchers found the trends by using various statistical models to analyze catch records from American vessels pursuing tuna and swordfish with longlines — miles-long strands with hundreds of baited hooks.

Sharks are usually an unintended catch for such fleets — which changed gear a decade ago to allow sharp-toothed sharks to break loose — but the catch rate provides a barometer of their abundance, Ms. Baum said. The
Dalhousie researchers said they accounted for the change in fishing gear in their analysis.

The main strain on shark populations comes from European boats that fish for sharks because of the growing popularity of their meat and from recreational fishing, Ms. Baum said. Federal regulations restrict shark fishing by American boats.

Big declines in sharks were found in coast-hugging species like hammerheads and deep-ocean wanderers like the thresher, with its distinctive elongated sickle-shaped tail fin.

The number of threshers has dropped 80 percent since 1986, and even then the number was below what it had been in the 1950's, the study's authors said in interviews. The population of great white sharks declined 79 percent since 1986, they said. But hammerheads appear to have fared worse, the scientists said, with a population decline of 89 percent from 1986 to 2000.

Some researchers expressed skepticism about this particular finding, saying that these sharks tend to concentrate near coasts in waters not well scoured by longline tuna and swordfish boats.

Federal fisheries officials said they had measured smaller declines in hammerheads and other coastal species and saw signs that some species, like blacktip sharks, were starting a slow recovery.

Over all, though, many experts said the new findings, particularly for deep-ocean sharks, were very convincing and troubling.

Little is known about the way various shark species live, and so it remains unclear why some might be more affected by fishing than others, Ms. Baum said.

Sharks, along with rays and skates, evolved hundreds of millions of years ago along a very different path than most fishes. They have skeletons of cartilage, not bone, and take much longer to reach sexual maturity — 12 to 18 years for some species — and produce far fewer progeny than bony fishes like bass — sometimes just one or two live-born pups per female. The slow reproductive rate is likely to delay a recovery even if fishing pressure abates, the Dalhousie researchers said.

Dr. Hueter of the Mote Marine Laboratory agreed. "Sharks are adapted to being the predators, not the prey," he said. "If we take them to the brink and decide we don't like what's happened, that'll be too bad because it'll be impossible to bring them back quickly."


SHARK FINNING

An excerpt from an article by Peter Knight published in Defenders Magazine. Winter 2002/3

Humans kill at least 100 million sharks every year, and probably many millions more. Half or more of sharks killed are "bycatch," snagged while fishermen are targeting other species on longlines or in enormous trawl nets, gillnets or purse seines. Although global populations are unknown, scientists agree that the numbers of many species are plummeting.

While traditionally shark meat held little value for fishermen, and sharks caught by mistake were often released, in recent decades trade in the animals’ fins has increased astronomically the value of the catch. Shark fins, used in the burgeoning and lucrative soup market, have become pound for pound one of the most valuable seafood products. A single bowl of shark fin soup can sell for $100. Tragically, in the waters off the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cocos Island, Costa Rica, Revillagigedos Islands, Mexico and beyond, millions of sharks are now caught, their fins cut off, and their bodies dumped overboard, often while the animals are still alive. Maimed and helpless, the finned sharks sink to the ocean floor and slowly die.

Jaws author Peter Benchley, who is now lending his name to shark conservation efforts, has seen the carnage for himself while diving off the Cocos Islands. "I have seen the bottom of the ocean strewn with finless sharks. [It was] one of the most horrific sights I have ever seen," he says. "The predator is the prey, the villain is now the victim."

At least 400 species of sharks cruise the world’s oceans, having evolved tremendous diversity over 400 million years. As top predators in their marine ecosystems, most sharks are naturally scarce. While many fish species may produce thousands or even millions of eggs every year and expect to lose most on their way to maturity, many shark species produce as few as two pups every two years. They may take 20 or more years to reach maturity and can live to 70 years and beyond. For millions of years, while big sharks had few natural predators, this survival strategy served them well. But it has made recovery from overexploitation very slow and difficult, if not impossible.

Sharks, like all top predators, play a critical role in keeping the marine food web in balance. Without them, numbers of mid-sized and smaller fish can quickly boom and then crash when their own food supply runs out. Yet despite their importance to the marine ecosystem, and by extension to commercial fisheries, surprisingly little is known about the life history, habits and numbers of the world’s sharks, and surprisingly few efforts have been made to reduce catches.

Sensational media coverage, movies and myths have contributed to sharks’ fearsome reputation. But no number of razor-sharp teeth or super-efficient swimming technique can protect them from the newest and greatest predator of all time — humans.

Humans today sweep the oceans clean with a dazzling array of technology. Fish-finding sonar, satellite locating systems, 40-mile-plus longlines with thousands of hooks, giant nets, spotter helicopters and factory ships operating 24 hours a day all mean that for many fish, there is nowhere to hide. As Benchley says, there are "too many people with too much sophisticated fishing gear chasing too few fish."

And the demand for fish is insatiable. According to the WorldFish Center, a nongovernmental research organization, average global fish consumption has almost doubled in less than 50 years, and catches would have to double again in the next 25 years to keep up with demand. Instead, they are mostly falling, in some cases precipitously.

Such declines in global abundance spell trouble for sharks, too. As renowned shark expert Leonard Campagno of South Africa’s Shark Research Centre says, "Even if we didn’t catch a single shark they would be in trouble, because we’re catching all their food."

But we are catching them, like never before. In the United States alone, commercial and recreational fishermen reported bringing to shore an estimated 86 million pounds of sharks in 1999. Catch data worldwide are notoriously poor, and much of the bycatch goes unreported. But even in the United States, where finning is illegal, there is evidence of a thriving shark fin market. Last August, for example, 32 tons of shark fins representing some 16,000-plus sharks were seized by the U.S. Coast Guard from a Honolulu-based boat.

Indeed, although millions of sharks are caught and their meat used, much of the world’s catch is fueled by the fin market. The biggest and fastest growing market of all for shark fins is China, though there are huge markets in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and elsewhere. Although the shark fin itself has no taste, only texture, shark fin soup has become a prestige product throughout many Asian cultures. People buy it to demonstrate their wealth or their respect for their guests as one would a bottle of good champagne or a fine cigar. From its origins in southeast China as an expensive and exclusive delicacy, shark fin soup is now ubiquitous at weddings and business dinners throughout Asia and in Asian communities and restaurants worldwide. There are also thriving markets in other shark products such as skin, oil and cartilage, which has gained popularity as a folk treatment, though ineffective, for cancer.

The deadly market for sharks has caused repercussions across the world. In Africa, many coastal communities that have relied on sharks as a source of protein for generations are in crisis. In Kenya, subsistence-fishing villagers often must import the once-plentiful meat. In India and the Philippines, where whale shark watching has become an important source of tourist revenue, authorities have seen their local populations decline by up to 90 percent. Even though whale sharks are protected in Indian waters, they lose this protection when they migrate into the waters of neighboring countries. Ecotourism elsewhere is suffering as well.

In fact, there is growing evidence of increasing public fascination and concern for shark species. So why is so little happening to stop the destruction? Perhaps it’s the sharks’ negative image or their historic lack of value as a resource. Maybe it is the difficulty of documenting the abuses and

the declines. Fisheries managers and policy makers, citing "insufficient data," often are reluctant to harm the livelihoods of fishermen by imposing restrictions on top of declining catches. But especially in the case of long-lived, slow-reproducing sharks like the whale shark, evidence of a drastic decline probably means that the fisheries will take decades to recover, if they can at all.

Under pressure from environmentalists, governments are beginning to take steps to monitor and protect sharks, with mixed results. Several years ago the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) asked all nations to draw up management plans for their shark populations to protect them from overharvest. Unfortunately the directive has no teeth, and the response has been lukewarm at best. Although 125 nations fish or trade in shark products, only Japan and the United States have developed plans so far, and both favor the status quo.

In 2000 the U.S. Congress passed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act, banning finning or possession of shark fins without the carcass in all U.S. waters, including the Pacific Ocean. Shark finning had been banned under various regulations in U.S. waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean since 1993. Australia passed a similar ban in April 2001, and environmentalists have helped persuade policy makers to outlaw finning in places like Costa Rica and recently the European Union. Various other countries have bans on killing particular shark species. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg this year, just about the only thing agreed was that fisheries needed to be brought under control globally. But the oceans remain a free-for-all. Even with the political will, no infrastructure exists to enforce many of the laws.

A global coalition of environmental and humane groups including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International, WildAid and Defenders of Wildlife recently won new protections for whale and basking sharks at the November meeting of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Santiago, Chile. The listing, the first-ever for shark species, will set into motion the monitoring of trade and its effects on their populations and will help control unsustainable harvesting practices.

Despite some gains in policy making, consumer education may be the most effective, and fastest, way to halt shark declines. A series of Asia-wide public education activities have begun to see some results. Dramatic film of finning and hard-hitting advertisements shown around the world seem to be changing minds about the appeal of shark fin soup. In Thailand, a WildAid survey found that 30 percent of people said "no" to shark fin soup following an intensive campaign there. In Taiwan, President Chen Shui-bian recorded a public service announcement and let it be known that he would not serve shark fin soup at his daughter’s wedding. In Hong Kong, the oldest chain of shark fin restaurants recently closed down, citing the economy and the ongoing campaign by environmentalists. In Singapore, shark fin soup has been dropped from many wedding menus, and one couple even tied the knot in a shark tank to publicize their strong feelings on the issue.

Health issues may also play a role in reducing demand for sharks: Recent tests in Thailand found very high levels of mercury in shark fins. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns pregnant women not to eat various predatory fish, such as swordfish and shark, because these wide-ranging and long-lived predators tend to accumulate in their tissue high levels of mercury and other pollutants.

But pressure to reduce demand must not let up if global shark populations are to survive and recover any time soon. And governments must acknowledge their role in halting overexploitation of their fisheries. The future of the majestic whale shark and all of her smaller cousins depends on it.

Peter Knights is executive director of WildAid, an international conservation group focusing on trade, based in San Francisco.


North Sea in crisis as skate dies out

Ban placed on large areas to stave off risk of species being destroyed

Paul Brown in Bergen
Thursday March 21, 2002
The Guardian

The common skate has become extinct in the North Sea and European environment ministers are so alarmed that other species, such as cod, herring and whiting, will follow that they have agreed that hundreds of square miles should be closed to fishing.

A scientific report to ministers meeting in Norway on fish stocks said beam trawling, which involves dragging nets along the bottom of the sea with chains to force sole and plaice up into the net, has wiped out many seabed species, including skate.

Communities of shellfish have been destroyed, including a mussel called arctica which can live for 100 years.

The report said: "The common skate [raja clavata] has virtually disappeared from the North Sea, and the only effective protection for this critically endangered species is a drastic reduction or complete halt to all kinds of sea-bottom fishing, for example, establishing closed areas. Unless this occurs similar species will also be fished out."

The report said stocks of commercially important, bottom-dwelling fish, the staple of British fish and chips, are now in danger of collapse, and ministers agreed that introducing "significant" undisturbed areas by 2004 was the only way to prevent the situation getting worse.

Last year, concern about the continuing fall in cod numbers led to a 10 week ban on catching the species during the spring breeding season, but that measure was seen by ministers as too little too late. It also meant that the fishing industry concentrated on haddock as an alternative, further damaging those stocks.

Another species, the North Sea mackerel, also once caught in large numbers, has become so rare it is classed as "commercially extinct" - in other words, there is no longer any point in fishermen trying to find any to catch to sell.

The ministerial declaration on the state of the North Sea, which covers issues such as pollution of all kinds and renewable energy, including wind farms, will be finalised today. But ministers agreed at the beginning of the meeting yesterday that the strongest possible action on fish stocks was required.

The declaration is being published a month ahead of the European commission's document on the future of the common fisheries policy. This is expected call for a cut in the EU fishing fleet by 50% to save stocks, as well as other restrictions on the fishing gear that can be used. These measures would put thousands of fishermen out of work and lead to the scrapping of many boats.

The 15 EU governments, and their fisheries ministers, who have to agree to a new fisheries policy by January 1, have resisted such drastic action. Yesterday, the 10 environment ministers from countries bordering the North Sea made it clear they felt such measures were needed.

Michael Meacher, the environment minister, attending the conference for the UK, said: "The issue of fish stocks has become critical and we want to make our concerns clear ahead of the review of the common fisheries policy. There has been intense pressure on stocks which are severely reduced. I strongly support the idea of closing large areas to save species."

Euan Dunn, fisheries policy officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: "This report could not be clearer about the danger we face with fish stocks. This is the last chance saloon. The kind of fishing with beam trawlers is like harvesting apples by cutting down the trees. "Previous attempts to do something about the common fisheries policy have been like applying sticking plaster to a serious injury; now drastic surgery is needed. Unless we can come up with fishing methods that look after the whole eco system then stocks are doomed. This is a very strong statement of political intent, let us hope that it results in action."

The Dutch have the largest beam trawler fleet but British boats operate out of east coast ports, and Belgium and France also operate in the North Sea.

Mark Tasker, the government's fisheries adviser, who works for the Joint Nature Conservancy Council, said the only way to save skate was to prevent all towed nets, like trawls, from using certain areas. "We warned five years ago that cod stocks would be commercially extinct in five years if measures were not taken. They took some action last year but it is still not enough."

Haddock, whiting and plaice were "high on the list" of other species that would suffer the same fate if they were not protected, he said.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002


05/6/2002
Sea Shepherd Crew Exposes Shark Finning Operation in Puntarenas

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Acting on a tip from a Costa Rican conservationist, the crew of the Farley Mowat located a property in Puntarenas where thousands of shark fins were in the process of being dried upon the rooftop of a building. This is direct violation to Costa Ricas recent ordinance (AJ-DIP/47-2001), which mandates that all shark carcasses landed at Costa Rica ports must have fins attached.

The Farley Mowat crew had to climb on top of parked semi-trailer to find the spot from which to video and photograph the shark fins.

As soon as the fishermen saw the cameras and the crew on top of the trailer, they immediately began to push and kick the shark fins off the roof and onto the ground below, and out of sight of the cameras.

After capturing the evidence on camera, the crew were confronted by an armed guard who accused them of trespassing. They ignored him and were able to bring back the evidence intact.

The illegal shark fin industry is huge and tens of thousands of sharks are being slaughtered to supply this gourmet luxury product.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is battling this illicit industry on both ends. We are exposing it at its source and intercepting shark poachers at sea. In Asia Sea Shepherd activists like Grant Perriera in Singapore are leading publicity and educational campaigns to discourage consumers from buying this product.

Taiwanese influence in Costa Rica is growing.

In exchange for foreign aid, Taiwan is expanding its fishing operations in Costa Rica and the trade in shark fins is growing.

Needless to say, Taiwanese pressure in Costa Rica to force Sea Shepherd out of an active role in helping to oppose illegal fishing is tremendous.


Asian Shark-Fin Trade May Be Larger Than Expected

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
April 28, 2003



Scientists analyzing trade statistics from Hong Kong's bustling dried seafood markets have found that the global shark fin trade may have been significantly underestimated. The study intensifies conservationists' concerns for sharks and other threatened marine species. The study, which was sponsored by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), suggests that the quantity of shark fins moving through Asian markets could be more than double previous estimates. Previous figures compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), based in Rome, Italy, have been used to help monitor and manage the worlds fish populations.

Lead author Shelley Clarke of Imperial College , London , used the trade-based approach to assess fishing rates of sharks and other at-risk marine species. "The idea behind the research was that there's a lot of concern about
over-fishing of sharks and other species, and a lot of attempts to improve monitoring at fishing level," she said. "But while they are going on, why not examine this from a market perspective?"

"Improved monitoring at the local level in key seafood trading centers like Hong Kong could help correct inaccurate information used to manage or regulate fishing levels," she said. "Although I don't believe that trade
data will ever be more important than fisheries monitoring data."

Key Market

Hong Kong's busy Sai Yun Pun district serves as the center of global trade in shark fins, which are considered a delicacy in many Asian diets. To harvest shark fins, fishers ply the world's ocean. Some definned sharks are
fully utilized. Other sharks are caught solely for their fins. They are caught, finned by fishers, and returned to the ocean, where the shark bleeds to death. Fins are later salted and dried for sale to consumers.

Estimates suggest that Hong Kong handles 50 to 85 percent of the world's shark fin imports. Between 1996 and 2000, shark fin trade grew more then five percent a year in Hong Kong . (However 2001 figures show significant
decreases in both Hong Kong and worldwide trade volume, and may reflect a new trend.)

Clarke's focused her research in the Sai Yun Pun district on shark fins and other dried seafood species, such as abalone and sea cucumbers, that had measurable trade records. Clarke found significant differences between the
recorded trade numbers of shark fins in Hong Kong and key trading partners—particularly the enormous market of mainland China.

Clarke suggested the differences were rooted in inaccurate and changing reporting systems, rather than intentional manipulation. Nevertheless, the research led Clarke and her colleagues to estimate that other jurisdictions could also be significantly underreporting trade figures by 24 to 49 percent as compared to Hong Kong .

Soaring Demand

Growing human populations and improved fishing technology have placed marine animals under siege across the world's oceans. Managing these threatened resources poses a challenge that begins with acquiring accurate data on the nature and scope of the problem. Resources managers seek to answer such questions as, what species are being fished and how much are fishers catching?

Adele Crispoldi and Stefania Vannuccini, fishery statisticians at the FAO, note that incomplete, inaccurate, and delayed reporting makes gathering accurate statistics a challenge for the organization. FAO gathers its information from national fishery reports filed by member nations.

"Even though FAO statistics are the most exhaustive data available on world production and trade of fish and fishery products, they are also likely to underestimate the actual world production and trade volumes of specific
species and products, such as sharks," the pair said in an interview. "Some data may be misleading if employed to deduce the respective importance, or trends for, various [shark] products."

FAO staff have since revised their initial estimates to reflect substantial increases to their estimated volume of shark fin trade in 2000 and 2001. Such revisions are not atypical. FAO staff say they often refine analysis of
previously collected national fisheries data. (However, overall 2001 trade levels declined, outside researchers note.)

Cripoldi and Vannuccini said that steps to improve fishery statistics on sharks include developing better methods to gather data on fishing takes and increasing fishery observer programs. FAO is undertaking such initiatives as
part of the organization's international shark conservation and management plan.

Because such plans are sometimes difficult to implement, the use of trade statistics to monitor fishing takes holds promise.

" They often provide a basis for supplementing, controlling, and validating catches through data sources not directly related to fishing," Crispoldi and Vannuccini said.

Crispoldi and Vannuccini noted one shortcoming: Trade statistics often fail to identify specific shark species.

Asian Demand High, Conservation Awareness Low

Throughout much of East Asia , dried seafood is both a popular food source and ingredient used in traditional medicines. Demand for dried seafood in China alone, with a population of 1.3-billion, is enormous.

Shark fin, known in China as yu chi or "fish wing," is used to make shark fin soup— a delicacy widely consumed in China since at least the start of the Sung dynasty in 960 A.D.

Trade in shark fins is a lucrative business. Depending on the species, shark fins can sell for U.S. $400 per kilogram (U.S. $880 per pound) or more in Hong Kong . Some 30 to 40 species are commonly traded.

Sharks were once ignored by many commercial fishermen. But they've become more desirable as other fish species disappear due to over-fishing. Sharks reproduce slowly. As a result shark stocks are slow to rebound once their populations have been diminished.

Shark fins from Europe now dominate the Hong Kong shark fin import market, according to the WCS study. While European imports were negligible as recently as the early 1990s, they now account for about 27 percent of the
total figure. Nearly all of those sharks are harvested by Spanish fishing fleets, whose other traditional commercial fish species have declined.

In the Sai Yun Pun district, Clarke found that most dried seafood traders had little knowledge of the natural history of their trade goods or the conservation issues surrounding them. "The trade community as a whole is
pretty unaware," said Clarke. "The traders in abalone and sea cucumber didn't have any sense of whether they were taking too many of the organisms, and whether 10 years down the line there might not be much left. That's a
new concept for them."

Clarke said shark fin dealers were more aware of conservation efforts. "They know that people are trying to curb that trade, but they don't believe that there's a problem with shark numbers."

Clarke hopes that her trade-based approach can become a valuable tool in global efforts to conserve marine resources.


The dogfish debate 

Posted on Mon, Feb. 10, 2003  The Philadelphia Enquirer

Fishermen on one side, conservationists on the other. In the middle: A shark once scorned as trash. Is it thriving, or is it being fished out of existence?

Inquirer Staff Writer

Not long ago, the spiny dogfish, a decidedly unglamorous member of the shark family, was just a trash fish that fouled fishermen's nets.

Nobody wanted to catch it, let alone eat it. Fishermen held strategy sessions on how to get away from schools of dogfish.

No longer.

Only about a decade after being "discovered" in the commercial fishing industry here, the once lowly dogfish is now at the center of an ecological debate.

Research biologists and conservationists claim it is being fished out of existence along the Atlantic coast.

Fishermen say it is still so abundant it is more like a plague with fins, to the point of interfering with their ability to catch more profitable fish.

"I think we're looking at a train wreck," Charles A. Witek 3d, a New York lawyer, recreational fisherman and conservationist, told a dozen members of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council who gathered here recently in a casino meeting room todebate the fate of the "dog."

Fisheries management specialist James L. Armstrong told the panel the coastal population was in such decline it might take half a century to rebuild.

James Lovgren, a Brick, N.J., commercial fisherman, glowered. "We have an ocean full of dogfish," he insisted.

"Jesus could walk on the water off Cape Cod , because he'd be stepping on dogfish," Lovgren said later. "This is just anti-fishing propaganda, plain and simple."

This classic fish debate - conservationists vs. fishermen - is made more complicated by the dogfish's amazing biology.

The females aren't sexually mature until age 12. And while much younger female codfish, for instance, spew out five million eggs a year, the spiny dogfish bears live young (about six "pups" at a time) and takes two years to do it. Its gestation period of 22 to 24 months is one of the longest on the planet.

In a way, the fishermen are right. There really are a lot of dogfish in the sea - at least 214 million, if you simply divide the estimated 2002 "biomass" of 857 million pounds of dogfish by the average weight of today's dogfish, which is four pounds.

Ultimately, though, the important question is not how many fish there are in the sea, but whether even the current reduced catch is sustainable.

What alarms researchers, Armstrong said, is that the number of sexually mature females has plummeted. And for five years, the birth of pups has been virtually zero.

Former fisheries council member Alan Weiss likens the situation to an airplane that has just lost its engine.

"It's still flying," said Weiss, president of Blue Water Fishing Tackle Co., a Conshohocken wholesaler of commercial and recreational fishing gear. "But you know it's not going to stay up for very long."

The current saga of the dogfish began around 1990. With cod in serious decline because of overfishing, the dogfish was discovered to be an adequate - and abundant - substitute in the European fish-and-chips market.

U.S. officials began to encourage a commercial fishery and pushed it for American palates, redubbing it the more eater-friendly "cape shark."

Recipes for " Cape Shark in Essence of Fennel" and "Cape Shark Teriyaki" began to hit Web cooking sites. Cape shark was served at New York Gov. George E. Pataki's 1995 inaugural ball.

Instead of throwing the ones that got caught in their nets overboard, as they always had, commercial fishermen began to target them.

The dogfish is a cold-water species, so the main fishery was in New England . But the fish migrates as far south as North Carolina , and a few have been known to push on toward Cuba .

Landings in New Jersey went from 22,000 pounds in 1989 to 4.5 million pounds in 1990. Dogfish filled the gaps when fishermen - often family operators with a single boat - couldn't target species such as cod or haddock because of limits.

"Fishermen don't fish for fish, they fish for dollars," said Bruce Freeman, of the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife. Even at 10 to 20 cents a pound, dogfish brought in cash when nothing else would.

Naturally, fishermen targeted the biggest dogs, which happened to be the sexually mature females.

Researchers say the situation was a recipe for disaster.

"I guess it's a case of 'be careful what you wish for,' " said Rich Seagraves, coordinator of the dogfish plan for the council.

Even if fishing stopped tomorrow, it could take 14 years - about a generation - to bring back the dogfish, Armstrong said. Allow even limited fishing, and it could take 50 years.

Commercial fishermen have an entirely different vision of disaster and the dogfish. They say it's hard to believe the species is being overfished, when there are so many dogs in the sea that they can hardly dip a net or drop a hook without catching one.

When dogs get into a net, they chew up both the net and any other fish in it. Fishermen have to remove them by hand, risking being sliced by their spines, which contain a mild toxin.

"At this point," Lovgren said, "they're the biggest concern of every fisherman on this coast."

The chasm between what researchers say and what fishermen see is so wide that some question the survey techniques.

Researchers evaluate the population by dragging a net behind a research trawler, counting what comes up, and extrapolating.

But if the nets aren't set right, or if the boat goes too fast or too slow, the results could be off.

"I can't disregard what I see on the water and what I hear," said James A. Ruhle Sr., a council member from North Carolina . "I have serious problems with the stock assessment. I question the gear."

Lovgren said, "Those researchers couldn't catch a dogfish if you threw it to them."

Meanwhile, the council has to work with the numbers it has. Over the next few months, the members will have to reach a decision among themselves - and then come to an agreement with the New England council.

The first time they tried, it was a struggle. The dogfish was officially declared overfished in 1998. Under federal law, any "overfished" species must have a management plan to restore it in 10 years.

For two years, the New England and Mid-Atlantic councils battled. They agreed to set limits, but the Mid-Atlantic council wanted an annual quota of 2.9 million pounds and New England balked at anything less than 14 million pounds.

In 2000, Commerce Secretary William M. Daley stepped in and imposed a limit of 4 million pounds, with trip limits of 300 to 600 pounds per boat, depending on the season.

The regulations led to a virtual shutdown of the New Jersey fishery because no one could sell a mere 300 pounds of dogfish. The processors are in New England , and the buyers' trucks hold 30,000 pounds.

Sonja Fordham, a shark expert with the Ocean Conservancy, urged the council to ban all dogfish landings.

To her and other shark conservationists, the dogfish is a valuable member of the ocean ecosystem. Its depletion would dent the image the United States is fostering as a protector of sharks.

"This is a terrible shame," she said. "This is one of the few sharks that, because of its abundance, had a better chance than most. It could have sustained a fishery. But we've blown it. It's too little, too late."

Also at the hearing were William and James Leach, who fish out of Barnegat, N.J., on William's 45-footer, the Kristin Lynn, named for his daughter and wife.

They navigate not just the ocean, but a sea of regulations. "You almost need a law degree to make sure you're legal," William Leach said.

When swordfish are legal, the fishermen put on the $30,000 long-line gear. When monkfish are legal, they switch to the $20,000 gill nets. Back and forth. They used to fish for dogs, but not anymore.

At one point, when the council began to discuss the feasibility of limiting the catch of mature females, but allowing a take of smaller males, they snorted with disgust.

"We're going to post a sign on the net," James Leach muttered. "No females allowed."


Fewer fish swim the sea
Baltimore Sun dogfish story by Timothy B. Wheeler Sun Staff
Originally published August 11, 2003

There was a time when fishermen cursed if they caught a spiny dogfish. The little sharks, 2- to 3-feet long, would steal bait from hooks set for valuable fish, or chew through a trawler's prized catch before the nets could be hauled in. Worse yet, the oceangoing pests seemed to be everywhere.

But as catches of cod, haddock and other desirable fish declined over the years, consumers developed a taste for the lowly dogfish. In England, it's likely to be the fish in "fish and chips." Commercial fishermen here and abroad have responded by targeting a species once reviled as "trash," with catches increasing almost tenfold since the late 1980s.
Although fishermen say they're still plentiful, scientists insist the spiny dogfish is in deep trouble. Annual government surveys show a sharp decline in the number of female dogfish all along the Atlantic coast, while young fish, or "pups," have virtually disappeared. That bodes ill for the future, scientists say.
"It's hard for people to recognize that there's such a real threat," says Michael Sissenwine, director of scientific programs for the National Marine Fisheries Service. "They're still relatively abundant. ... It's a problem you really can't see."
The dogfish debate highlights a continuing controversy over the management of fisheries here and abroad. An article in the journal Nature recently argued that worldwide "industrialized" fishing has reduced the number and size of cod, halibut, tuna, swordfish and other large fish by as much as 90 percent over the past half-century.
At a protest last week in Baltimore, conservationists complained that commercial interests have dominated the debate over fishery regulation since the 1970s. As a result, they said, 60 percent of commercially important U.S. fish stocks are severely depleted. "The U.S. management system is just not working," said Matt Rand of the National Environmental Trust.
He echoed a report this summer from the Pew Oceans Commission, an independent group of experts financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which called for reforms in how the United States handles its fisheries.
Industry spokesmen and government officials dispute charges that the oceans are being overfished. But conservationists say the dogfish proves their point: Although some stocks are recovering through improved management, federal and state laws fail to ensure that all fish are harvested in a sustainable manner.
"This doesn't bode well for other species, and especially sharks," contends Sonja Fordham, fish conservation project manager for the Ocean Conservancy, based in Washington.
Sissenwine acknowledges that regulators haven't done enough to preserve the spiny dogfish, despite drafting a plan to rebuild the population. "There's a lot of good science that says we need to lower the catch, or it isn't going to be sustained in the long term," he said.
Commercial dogfish operations were sharply curtailed three years ago when scientists warned that the species was in serious jeopardy. But this year, officials from Massachusetts -- home of the coast's largest dogfish fleet -- persuaded the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to let fishermen working inshore catch up to 8.8 million pounds of spiny dogfish in the coming year -- more than twice the earlier limit. States regulate fishing within three miles of their shoreline, while the federal government controls
catches from 3 miles to 200 miles out.
Massachusetts officials argued that there were flaws in the federal dogfish count.
How are fish counted in the ocean? Federal scientists at Woods Hole, Mass., base their assessments of Atlantic fish stocks largely on semi-annual trawling surveys. Two research trawlers operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration drag nets along the ocean bottom for 30-minute
intervals at hundreds of randomly selected spots from Cape Hatteras north to Canada. They count, measure and weigh every fish hauled aboard, adding to a compendium of fish-sampling data that stretches back into the 1960s.
Fishermen -- who have chafed at severe restrictions and even closure of some of their most valuable fisheries on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine -- say the surveys undercount the fish. NOAA biologists use outdated trawling methods and gear, fishermen charge, and don't sample where the fish are
likely to congregate.
The scientists counter that they sample the water at random, rather than search for fish using sonar, to get a true picture of abundance. They use the same gear and methods year after year, they say, so they can reliably track trends.
The latest flare-up occurred last year, when NOAA officials acknowledged that the Albatross IV's bottom-dragging net wasn't deployed evenly during the winter and spring surveys off New England. Industry officials labeled the error "Trawlgate," but subsequent reviews by independent scientists
determined that it did not invalidate the results.
"I think it was a lot about nothing," said Jon Volstad, a specialist in fish population dynamics for Versar Inc., a consulting firm based in Columbia.
Volstad, whose firm does work for government and industry, participated in one of the scientific reviews. He noted that fish move around a lot and are not evenly distributed.
"There will always be some uncertainty, but in general [National Marine Fisheries Service] has good survey techniques," he said. Survey data aside, regulators sensitive to the fishermen's economic plight sometimes bend scientists' recommendations on what is a sustainable catch.
"Fishermen are in a bad spot," notes Robert Beal, interstate fisheries manager for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. "Allowing another 4 million pounds of dogfish is a help for those guys."
But the decision will only exacerbate the looming dogfish disaster, federal scientists warn. That's because fishermen are going after the largest of the species, and females grow faster than the males. Annual trawl surveys have tracked a 75 percent decline in female dogfish since 1998, and for the past seven years they have turned up very few young.
Like other sharks, spiny dogfish are slow to mature, taking 12 years to reach reproductive age, and they bear young every other year. That makes them highly vulnerable to overfishing, experts say.
Though unable to block the reopening of commercial dogfishing in state waters, the National Marine Fisheries Service on July 17 imposed a ban on taking dogfish from federally managed waters.
The federal closure will ease, but not erase the impact of the state's action, since many fishermen work only inshore waters. "Whatever we do now," Fordham warns, "the population will still decline because there are no pups coming in."


Oceanic whitetips wiped out.

Study: Oceanic whitetip sharks virtually extinct along Texas
By DINA CAPPIELLO
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle Environment Writer

A shark that was once as common in the Gulf of Mexico as blood-thirsty mosquitoes along the Texas coast is now virtually extinct from the region, according to research published today in the journal Ecology Letters.

By comparing data collected in the 1950s to accidental catch taken in the 1990s aboard commercial fishing vessels, two Canadian scientists estimate the population of oceanic whitetip sharks has declined in the Gulf by more than 99 percent -- a number that the federal government said Tuesday was likely overestimated.

The study spells more trouble for big fish and sharks, which are slow-growing species that give birth to few young and are already on the
decline elsewhere. In the Gulf of Mexico, the whitetip joins green turtles and blue fin tuna on the list of locally extinct, although the shark still
exists in the warm waters of the world's oceans.

"What we have shown is akin to the herds of buffalo disappearing from the Great Plains and no one noticing," said Ransom Myers, a leading fisheries biologist based at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who wrote the paper with colleague Julia Baum as part of a global assessment of sharks.

"There are so few of them, whatever functions they served in the ecosystem they are no longer serving," he said.

In their study, the scientists documented that the proportion of whitetip and silky sharks caught on fishing lines in the Gulf had declined from 15 to .3 percent during the past 40 years, a trend that they say means less sharks are in the Gulf.

Part of the reason for the decline however could also be increasing regulations to protect open-water species such as sharks. In the mid-1980s, the Gulf was closed to foreign fishing fleets casting long lines for tuna. And in 1993, catching sharks just for their fins was banned in the United States, diminishing the market for shark.

As a result, whitetip shark killings in the Gulf and elsewhere in the United States are now largely the result of bycatch -- caught unintentionally in the long lines set for tuna and swordfish. These lines can extend as far as 50 miles and contain thousands of hooks.

"In respect to open-water sharks, we've eliminated any direct fishing," said Michael Sissenwine, the chief scientific adviser for the National Marine Fisheries Service, the government agency that manages shark populations in U.S. waters. Sissenwine questioned the study's numbers.

"I wouldn't put a lot of confidence in the specific numbers," he said. "It's only the Gulf of Mexico, and the species being discussed here has a broad range. To know what is happening to this population, one needs to know what is happening everywhere."

Since the shark migrates hundreds of miles, the legal taking of whitetip sharks in international waters could also be contributing to their absence in the Gulf. And while Sissenwine says that commercial fishing is targeting sharks less, the researchers found that had little effect on how many sharks were caught.

Advocates for ocean conservation said the study should result in better shark management, either by closing areas with high bycatch or adding whitetip sharks to list of species that can't be fished.

"You can see them as canaries in the coal mine, and a real signal that we are over-exploiting are ocean resources," said Sonja Fordham, the international fish conservation program manager for The Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C.

The National Marine Fisheries plans to conduct a shark population study in the entire Atlantic, something that has been delayed by a lack of
cooperation from the international community, which still catches oceanic whitetips for their fins.

But Myers said that in many cases data for other areas does not exist


More sharks added to IUCN Red List

"More sharks to be put on endangered list
Wed 30 June, 2004 06:41

 By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - More shark and ray species are to be classified
as endangered on a global watch list in another sign that the planet's
oceans are in trouble.

Overfishing and a soaring demand for shark fin are the prime culprits
behind the threats facing the creatures.

"The situation in many other cases is more serious than we
realised...shark populations are in decline globally," said Dr Rachel
Cavanagh, Programme Officer for the Shark Specialist Group with the IUCN
(World Conservation Union).

Cavanagh said on Wednesday the additions would be made after a meeting
earlier this month of shark experts in Florida.

"At least 10 more shark and ray species will be added to the IUCN Red
List of Threatened Species," she told Reuters by telephone from her UK
office.

The Swiss-based IUCN's Red List -- a respected wildlife barometer widely
used by scientists and conservationists -- currently classifies 82
sharks and rays as threatened. 


SLAUGHTER IN PARADISE:    J’ ACCUSE !

By Wolfgang Leander

Cochabamba / Bolivia

March 28, 2005

Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands as a young man on a voyage early in the nineteenth century. His keen observation of the island flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth led him directly toward his theory of the evolution of species. Not much later, Herman Melville sailed to the Galapagos as a whaler and called the volcanic archipelago “Las Encantadas”, the “Enchanted Islands”.

Ecuador claimed the “Encantadas” in 1832 from Spain. At that time they seemed to be of no value to any imperial power. In 1978, the UNESCO declared the Galapagos a World Heritage Site. Today, the islands are Ecuador’s top tourist destination, generating over USD 150 million per year in revenues. Nature lovers consider the islands a paradise.

Yet, this paradise is in deep trouble.

There is growing concern among local and international scientists and conservationists that massive tourism, illegal immigration, pollution, over-fishing, and political meddling seriously threaten the islands.

Headlines of articles on the Galapagos typically read as follows: “Conservation on the Brink”;World Heritage in Danger”;Longline Fishing to be allowed in the Galapagos”;Chaos reigns in the Galapagos National Park”. “El Comercio”, the leading Ecuadorian daily newspaper, published an alarmingly realistic article on shark finning in the Galapagos on March 15, 2005, under the heading: “The massacre of Sharks in the Galapagos continues at an accelerated rate”.

Finning’ is a brutal way to slice off the fins of sharks, often from live animals, then dumping the helpless creatures back into the ocean to face an agonizing death.

The “International Galapagos Tour Operators Association” (IGTOA) fears the worst. In their January 2005 bulletin they came to the sobering conclusion that they are “slowly but surely losing the fight to preserve the Galapagos Islands.” And: “With neither government understanding nor support, and corruption from top to bottom, the future is bleak.”

Current finning is a relapse into bad practice that was already outlawed. Shark fishing and the export of shark fins was banned in September 2004 after a long battle between militant local fishermen and the government, which had to give in to massive pressure from international conservationist organizations. However, the illegal practice of shark finning carried out with the tacit approval of the Ecuadorian Navy and local law enforcement officers never diminished.

There is simply no political will to end the chaotic situation in the Galapagos National Park. Eleven Park Directors, probably none of them with the slightest commitment to their duties, have come and gone in the past 24 months. The fact eloquently speaks for itself.

Under these deplorable circumstances the “tiburoneros”, which is what the shark fishermen are being called, feel quite uninhibited to operate within the boundaries of the Marine Reserve. Experts estimate the number of sharks killed in the Galapagos solely for their fins to amount to as many as 600.000-700.000 per year. That represents some 80 percent of all the sharks caught in Ecuador, the fishing port of Manta being the principal “killing center” on the mainland.

The politics behind it would completely astound naďve international observers. On March 5, 2005, the president of Ecuador, Lucio Gutierrez, visited the Galapagos and held extensive meetings with representatives of the local fishing community. Exactly one week later, Mr. Gutierrez signed a decree to re-allow the export of shark fins as long as sharks are being caught as “by-catch”, effectively annulling the September 2004 prohibition to export shark fins.

This is utterly cynical and outrageous as the new decree opens the door to indiscriminate, totally uncontrolled shark finning. The Galapagos fishermen, some of whom are known as an aggressive lot of criminal thugs, will concentrate on fishing sharks and innocently declare their catch as being “accidental”.

In 1998, Transparency International in Berlin ranked Ecuador among the most corrupt countries in the world. Two years later the Andean nation was awarded the dubious distinction of being the most corrupt country in Latin America.

Corruption in this small banana-exporting country is indeed all-pervasive. Hardly anything works in Ecuador unless appropriately “lubricated”.

Lucio Gutierrez, a formerly obscure army colonel who staged an ill-fated coup d’etat early in 2000, promised to relentlessly fight corruption during the electoral campaign – a pious obligation every Ecuadorian presidential candidate routinely vows to comply with in order to win votes.

After only a few months in power, Mr. Gutierrez’ popularity began plummeting to pitifully low levels. Most Ecuadorians consider him corrupt and incompetent. He is said to openly serve his clientele with little regard to public opinion. His sometimes intimidating attacks on critical journalists bespeak an almost anti-democratic, authoritarian government style.

The fish begins to stink at the head, as we say in Germany. What can thus be expected from lower ranking politicians? Not much, really. That is the bitter truth. Unfortunately, the IGTOA are absolutely right in their somber appreciation of the realities in the Galapagos.

I talked with many Islanders recently: dive operators, licensed guides, hotel and restaurant owners. People who care about their islands and who are completely appalled at what they are witnessing first hand. Some are perhaps too afraid to speak out, others feel completely powerless before the tightly knit web of complicity among fishermen, politicians, members of the naval personnel, and the international shark fin dealer mafia.

Most of the young people I spoke to believe they can do little about it. They compare illicit shark finning to the business of drug trafficking where everything is about big, big money and thus next to impossible to control. The analogy may not be far-fetched.

However, here is a significant difference: drug consumption is a socio-pathological problem that will not throw the world out of balance. But the unrelenting demand for shark fins to be processed into a broth of alleged aphrodisiac value to cater to an ever growing number of mindless shark fin soup consumers in East Asia will inexorably lead to the extinction of sharks. Extinction is forever.

This is what WildAid, a US based conservation agency working in the Galapagos, has to say in this context:

The indiscriminate slaughter of sharks to satisfy this growing market is causing drastic and irreversible changes to Galapagos biodiversity. Why? Sharks help maintain healthy, balanced populations of fish, birds and marine animals preying upon the weak, diseased and injured. Additionally, countless species of cleaner fish depend on sharks to provide them with sustenance. The removal of the sharks from this complex ecological equation would be catastrophic.”

Hence the urgency of stopping shark slaughter NOW, not just in Ecuador but world-wide.

However insignificant and largely unnoticed, there are some encouraging signs of positive action amid the gloomy scenario worth to be recorded. Mathias Espinosa, an ecologically minded German-Ecuadorian diver and owner of Scubaiguana, the best-run dive operator in the Galapagos, is doing what he considers his modest share in trying to make a difference.

In order to motivate his fellow “galapaguenos” to love their islands, instead of exploiting them, Mathias introduces shark fishermen to the undersea world, awakening in them the sense of appreciation of the marvels that surround them while swimming underwater.

Seemingly senseless butchers thus learn to see sharks not as a sought after commodity but as irreplaceable marine creatures that need to be protected from human greed and ignorance.

Mathias’ blue eyes glow as he recounts how good he felt when he began to train several shark fishermen to become enthusiastic professional dive masters and fully committed conservationists way back in the nineties. One of them, Juan Carlos Moncayo or “Macarron” as he is commonly known in Puerto Ayora, has become a free-lance dive instructor who passes on his passion for the ocean and its creatures to the next generation of professional dive guides.

Several countries and island states such as the Bahamas have successfully developed extremely lucrative eco-tourism industries based on diving with sharks. With dedicated people like Mathias Espinosa and many others resident divers, the Galapagos Islands could be one of those places were it not being wasted by the short-sightedness of ignorant, greedy and careless individuals.

On a personal note I wish to state that I have painfully witnessed what it really means when one reads or hears of ‘decimating’ the shark population in a given place. I have been visiting, and diving, the Galapagos for seven consecutive years since 1999. Even though I am not a scuba diver, “just” a free-diving underwater photographer, I could see for myself how sharks, especially Scalloped Hammerhead sharks and Galapagos sharks, were getting scarcer every year I came back.

If you care to take a look at my website www.oceanicdreams.com you will see many photographs of Galapagos sharks. Virtually all of these pictures were taken while free-diving at a small island next to Floreana, called Enderby Island. I would normally see at least 10-15 Galapagos sharks every single time I dove there. This year I saw not even one.

As I was later told, shark fishermen had “discovered” Enderby Island sometime in mid-July 2004 and managed to clean the area within a few weeks. Some dive masters confirmed to me that they saw the mutilated shark carcasses lying at the bottom of the sea. I was depressed beyond hope. I felt as if I had lost good friends ….Yes, when it comes to sharks I get quite emotional…

As far as I am concerned, only the most drastic measures will force the Ecuadorian authorities to finally put an end to the irresponsible killing of sharks, and other environmental crimes being committed in the Galapagos Marine Reserve and elsewhere in the region:

1) The UNESCO should withdraw the status, and funding, of the Galapagos as World Heritage Site, and publicly denounce Ecuador for not effectively safe-guarding this unique sanctuary from environmental terrorists which include corrupt government officials;

2) The donor countries should cut foreign aid to Ecuador as long as the laws to protect the Islands, which would have to include a strict control on immigration from the mainland, are being largely ignored by the authorities;

3) International tourism to Ecuador, not just to the Galapagos, should be boycotted even though this would temporarily hurt innocent people.

These measures would amount to declaring war on corruption in Ecuador. Unconditional war on corruption and ecological predation is the only way to win the fight if there is still a chance to preserve what is left of the islands for humanity and the rest of the biosphere.


Gangetic sharks face extinction

Surojit Mahalanobis
23 July 2005
The Times of India
(c) 2005 The Times of India Group

NEW DELHI: Like dugongs in Indian seas, legendary Gangetic sharks too seem to have gone extinct in Indian rivers. It's a predator fish found only in the Ganges.

The Gangetic Shark, or 'Glyphis Gangeticus' is often confused with Bull Sharks ('Carcharhinus leucas'), a large, heavy, saw-toothed species notorious for attacking humans. Both sharks can swim far up the tropical rivers and found in rivers of Mumbai, Kochi and Hooghly.

The Delhi office of the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has a board hung to sensitise people about 11 species of river fish species, among which one is Gangetic Sharks.

According to Wildlife Protectio Act 1972 read with CrPC provisions, poaching or possessing body parts of the Gangetic sharks will award a poacher or trader 10 years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000.

Though the glyphis group of riverine sharks were profusely poached world over, and nothing was heard about them after 19th century, it's a rare discovery, said International Union for Conservation of Nature and natural Flora and Fauna (IUCN) in a notice.

The glyphis group of sharks were first discovered in the Kinabatangan river of Borneo.

But the Gangetic sharks historically swum in fresh waters of Hooghly-Ganges river system in West Bengal. Experts believe the Gangetic sharks may also have dominated river waters of Karachi.

Said a CITES official, "These sharks are excellent under water predators in a river system. They keep ecological balance of a riverine eco-system."

 

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