Fishing nations of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) today agreed to protect oceanic whitetip sharks based on a U.S. proposal, while an Australian proposal to ban intentional setting of purse seine nets on whale sharks (to catch associated aggregations of tuna) was stalled by Japan.
"We are pleased that the WCPFC has heeded scientific advice and taken action to conserve seriously overfished oceanic whitetip sharks," said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International*. "This decision -- the first species-specific shark protection adopted by this body – should be complemented by additional conservation measures for the region's other vulnerable and overfished shark species in the near future."
Scientists report steep declines in Western Central Pacific oceanic whitetip shark populations and estimate that banning retention could reduce mortality by up to 76%. The WCPFC agreed to prohibit retention, transshipment, storage, and landing of this species.
Australia's proposed ban on the deliberate setting of purse seine nets on whale sharks was stalled due to opposition by Japan. The Members did agree, however, to revisit the issue and adopt revised measures at the next WCPFC meeting.
"An estimated 75 whale sharks were killed in the region's purse seine fishery in 2009 and 2010," said Rebecca Regnery, Deputy Director of Wildlife for Humane Society International. "We are perplexed and dismayed by continuing delays in adopting such basic and sensible safeguards for these globally threatened and economically important species."
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies oceanic whitetip and whale sharks as globally Vulnerable. Whale sharks are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species. Whale shark tourism worldwide is valued at nearly $50 million USD. The oceanic whitetip shark was denied CITES listing in 2010, but has since been protected by regional fisheries bodies governing the Eastern Tropical Pacific and the Atlantic.
*Shark Advocates International (SAI) is a project of The Ocean Foundation established to advance science-based policies for sharks and rays. Humane Society International (HSI) is one of the only international animal protection organizations in the world working to protect all animals. Together, SAI and HSI staff have decades of expertise as leaders in securing shark finning bans and protections for threatened shark species, particularly in the U.S., Australia, and Europe.
Picture of an Oceanic whitetip shark, taken October 2009 at Daedalus Reef, Red Sea, Egypt