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

Crawdaddy Hale crawdaddyhale at hotmail.com
Wed Oct 10 19:53:35 EDT 2007

Dr. Tupper:
Thank you for your thoughtful response.
- Of course I am interested in pelagic sharks and the effect that overfishing might have on highly migratory species such as bluefin and yellowfin tuna, but because this is the "coral" list, I confined my inquiry to reefs.
-  I am also interested in the pricing of shark meat and fins, but that seems a bit off topic for this list as well.
-  You are correct that commercial shark fishing does occur within the 24-mile zone.  It is a severe problem, especially in the Southwestern Islands of Palau.   While the scenario you described, sneaking into the reef zone, is more directly damaging to dive tourism, the Palau anti-finning law is clear that there is to be no-shark fishing (beyond some limited domestic exploitation) anywhere in the EEZ.  As you might remember from your time here, the enforcement regime is relatively weak.  There is only one patrol boat with a limited fuel budget.  For instance, worried relatives have been known to plop down a credit card to pay for fuel to get a search and rescue mission going.  Also keep in mind that the port and the dock facilities are crawling with agents for the Taiwan fishing fleets.  They simply report the movements of the patrol boat and warn the longliners out at sea.  Occasionally we catch a break, like in a multi-national operation in which Palau gets air support from the U.S. Navy.  Sometimes Customs gets lucky at the dock.  And because the situation is so bad that even some of the locally-based foreigners aren't making money (over half of the the fish that they would process for profit is being illegally offloaded in Davao, Philippines or onto motherships) they will provide useful intelligence at times.  What I am trying to say is that we can't be too choosy on what we enforce, especially when there is a such a high rate of non-compliance with the law regarding fishing regulations, e.g., VMS tracking compliance abysmal, false catch logs, smuggling, etc.
- Bottom line, there are a lot of forces in Palau that advocate shark finning.  It is currently against the law.  It is my job to enforce that law.  If I can use scientific information to that end, I am happy to do so.  If the research isn't there, then it just isn't.  But thanks for your comments because it is always helpful to get another's take on the matter, especially someone who has been out this way.  And yes, as you pointed out, combating pelagic shark fishing would likely deter the riskier, reef fishing.
Best regards,
Christopher Hale
crawdaddyhale at hotmail.com

> Subject: RE: [Coral-List] Overfishing of blue and silky sharks to the detriment of Palau coral reefs?> Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2007 14:57:50 +0800> From: M.Tupper at CGIAR.ORG> To: crawdaddyhale at hotmail.com; coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> > 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,> > Mark> > > > 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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