[Coral-List] Overfishing of blue and silky sharks to the detriment of Palau coral reefs?

Crawdaddy Hale crawdaddyhale at hotmail.com
Mon Oct 8 20:18:04 EDT 2007

Dear Coral List:
 1.  Can you point me to any research that shows a detrimental link between overfishing of pelagic sharks and the health of coral reef ecosystems?
- Any information would help, but it would be preferable if the sharks were blue sharks (Prionace glauca) or silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis).
- Indo-Pacific examples are most helpful.
I am the Assistant Attorney General of the Republic of Palau in charge of, inter alia, maritime and fisheries enforcement.  Under Palauan law, the practices of fishing for and mutilating (finning) sharks are basically outlawed throughout Palau's EEZ.  Keep in mind that foreign commercial fishing is not permitted within the 24-mile contiguous zone.
I am currently prosecuting three shark finning cases.
The fishing industry in Palau consists mostly of Taiwanese-flagged longliners.  These vessels have a horrible track record as far as regulatory compliance, but their owners and shore-based handlers are politically connected, thus they remain a fact of life for now.  In addition, the Judiciary typically issues fines that are on the low end.  Some of us have been trying to get higher fines and more severe punishments for shark finning.  Solid scientific research will help with this effort.
As you may know, Palau is famous for its scuba diving, with sites like "Blue Corner" where tourists can see schools of gray and whitetip reef sharks.  One argument we constantly get from the fishing industry (which is publicly pro-shark finning) is that fishing for sharks "out in the ocean" does not negatively impact the sharks that tourists see.  At first glance, this seems like a pretty good argument as the sharks found on apprehended vessels are usually blue sharks (Prionace glauca), silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis), and the occasional thresher or dusky shark.  
However, Palau's anti-shark finning law was passed not only to protect reef sharks, but also as a response to the ecological imbalances associated with overfishing top predators.  
I have come across research that demonstrates that the overfishing of sharks on the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. has contributed to the decline of the scallop fishery.  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070329145922.htm#   But I have yet to come across anything that establishes a link between overfishing of pelagic sharks and the health of coral reef ecosystems.  This may be because our internet in Palau is so slow and intermitted that online research is difficult, or that our office is really set up for legal as opposed to scientific research.  In any event, it is a knowledge gap for the Palau government.
Thank you for any assistance you can give.
Best regards,
Christopher L. Hale
Palau Assistant AG
crawdaddyhale at hotmail.com 

More information about the Coral-List mailing list