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

Tupper, Mark (WorldFish) M.Tupper at CGIAR.ORG
Wed Oct 10 02:57:50 EDT 2007

Dear Christopher,

I am the former Senior Scientist at the Palau International Coral Reef
Center and I have spent about 5 years researching coral reef fish and
fisheries in Palau, before moving to the WorldFish Center in Malaysia.

I seriously doubt you will find any data or information relating
fisheries for pelagic sharks to coral reef health, because I suspect
such data do not exist. My guess would be that pelagic sharks like blue
and silky sharks spend the great majority of their time in open water
and do not contribute significantly to the trophic structure of Palau's
coral reef ecosystems. Thus their removal would likely have little
effect on coral reef health. What you should look into more closely is
the effect of removing these apex pelagic predators on Palau's pelagic
fisheries, which target yellowfin tuna, wahoo, mahi, and various other
scombrids to supply the restaurants with fresh sashimi and sushi.
Unfortunately, I doubt many data exist on this subject either.

Having said that, I seem to recall that Palau's finning laws were
implemented after a particularly nasty case where a Taiwanese boat was
discovered with the fins of something like 3000 sharks on board. I had
heard (but cannot confirm) that among these sharks were reef-associated
species such as gray reef sharks, great hammerhead sharks, and tiger
sharks. That information should be documented somewhere. If correct,
that means the boat must have come well inside the 24 mile zone, right
up to the barrier reef area. This in my mind is the greatest danger in
allowing shark finning anywhere - that a boat may simply sneak in close
to shore at night and take nearshore shark species off the reefs. This
could very well have a large impact on both the coral reef ecosystem and
the dive tourism industry. I believe it this issue of compliance that
you should focus on in Palau. If you can convince the Judiciary of the
danger in giving shark finners the opportunity to illegally target
reef-associated sharks (by applying only token "slap on the wrist fines"
as opposed to vessel seizure and jail terms), then perhaps you can make
some progress.

Best of luck,


Dr. Mark Tupper
Scientist - Coral Reefs
The WorldFish Center
PO Box 500 GPO, 10670 Penang, Malaysia
Tel (+6-04) 626-1606; Fax (+6-04) 626-5530

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