It has been a banner year for shark conservation – and the good news just keeps rolling in, this time out of Europe.
Today the EU's executive arm proposed a complete ban on shark finning, the practice of cutting off the fins of sharks, often while they are still alive, and then throwing the wounded animals back into the sea.
We’re proud to report that Oceana played a big part in securing this victory; our colleagues in Europe have been campaigning for a shark finning ban in the EU for years.
If the proposal is adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, all vessels fishing in EU waters and all EU vessels fishing anywhere in the world will have to land sharks with the fins still attached – a boon for vulnerable shark populations around the world.
The EU includes some of the world’s major shark fishing nations – Spain, France, Portugal, and the UK. The largest EU shark fisheries occur on the high seas, where Spanish and Portuguese pelagic longliners that historically targeted mainly tuna and swordfish now increasingly catch sharks, particularly oceanic species such as blue sharks and shortfin mako sharks. More than half of large oceanic shark species are currently considered threatened.
Globally, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year to satisfy the demand of the international shark fin market. EU nations combined catch the second-largest share of sharks – 14% of the world’s reported shark catches.
Today's proposal strengthens the existing EU legislation banning shark finning, which allows shark finning in certain situations. Currently the fins and bodies can be separated on board vessels with special permits, and then landed at different ports. The EU tries to ensure that no bodies have been discarded by making sure the weight of the fins does not exceed 5 percent of the entire weight of the fish landed. The new rule would close this loophole.
"A stronger ban on shark finning will bring significant benefits for shark fisheries management and conservation, not only in Europe, but in all of the oceans where European vessels are catching sharks," said Dr. Allison Perry, marine wildlife scientist with Oceana in Europe.
Congrats to everyone who helped score this huge win for sharks, and fingers crossed for approval by the EU Council and Parliament!
This week, we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. It’s a time to appreciate and reflect upon the good tidings of the past year.
We’ve had a great year at Oceana, with numerous policy achievements accomplished for the oceans around the world. I’d like to take a moment to express my thanks for some of our more recent news.
- The two-year anniversary of our office in Belize was Nov. 15. In that short time, our Belizean colleagues have accomplished several historic ocean victories, from banning trawling in the country’s waters to protecting local fishermen from industrial fishing fleets from other countries.
- We continue to win victories for sharks around the world. This week, Florida approved a new rule that fully protects tiger and hammerhead sharks.
- Outside Magazine named Oceana as one of 30 nonprofits who deserve your dollars in what they call “The Year of Giving Adventurously.”
Lastly, of course, I am thankful for all the individuals, foundations and companies who have continued to support Oceana over the years. You have made it possible for us to secure meaningful, positive changes for the oceans. Thank you.
Earlier this year, Oceana and National Geographic completed an expedition to Sala y Gómez Island, an uninhabited Chilean island near Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean.
It was a follow-up to our first journey in October 2010, which was instrumental in the creation of a no-take marine reserve of 150,000 square kilometers around the island. Sala y Gómez is part of a chain of seamounts that are vulnerable to fishing activity.
And after months of patiently waiting, we now get to see some of the biodiversity that our colleagues discovered on their expeditions. NatGeo is releasing a documentary about Sala y Gómez, featuring Oceana campaigners as well as Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, who has called Sala y Gómez “one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean.
Check out the trailer:
The dive team glimpses 15 Galapagos sharks and scads of slipper lobsters – and that’s just in this three-minute clip! You can catch the full documentary on January 19th at 8 pm on NatGeo WILD.
I’m sitting in the meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission down in Key Largo, and I have great news: A decision has just been made to protect tiger sharks and three species of hammerhead sharks in state waters.
The new rules go into effect January 1, 2012 and prohibit the commercial harvest, possession and landing of tiger and hammerhead sharks (scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads) in state waters -- that’s three miles off the Atlantic coast and nine miles off the Gulf coast. Recreational fisheries for these species could continue, as long as they’re “catch and release."
We really like this new regulation. Tiger sharks have declined drastically in recent decades -- up to 97% in US Atlantic waters. And these three species of hammerhead sharks have declined about 70% in northwest Atlantic waters. Sharks are often caught for their fins that eventually end up in shark fin soup.
There are some other shark species that still would benefit from this same protection in Florida’s waters, but for now we’re pleased to see the state make positive changes to these shark fisheries. Florida’s waters provide essential habitat for these species; their babies (called pups) use these waters as nursery grounds.
Protected sharks = more shark babies = healthier oceans. Thanks to everyone who helped with this huge victory for sharks!
Three-quarters of the highly migratory sharks that are caught in the Atlantic are classified as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but less than 1 percent are protected from overfishing by the organization that’s charged with that task.
That sad statistic is according to a new report we released today coinciding with the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Although ICCAT is in charge of shark conservation in the Atlantic’s international waters, Oceana’s new report shows that the organization is not doing enough.
Oceana scientists are present at the ICCAT meeting this week, and they are calling on the 48 countries that fish in the Atlantic to adopt greater measures to protect these vulnerable sharks from going extinct.
Some sharks, like tunas, travel long distances across the oceans, so their populations can’t be effectively managed by any one country. Most shark species in the Atlantic are vulnerable to overfishing because of their exceptionally low reproductive rates. Currently, ICCAT only has protections in place for a few species including hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks, although many other sharks are threatened with extinction, including porbeagle, silky, shortfin mako and blue sharks.
And as you know, sharks keep the ocean ecosystem in balance. When sharks disappear, the implications for the entire ocean food chain are dire. Here’s hoping that ICCAT takes further action this time around to protect the Atlantic’s top predators.
The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and can fit a human inside its mouth. But don’t be afraid: this huge fish eats only plankton and small fish, which it gathers by pumping water over its gills.
The whale shark is one of three sharks that filter feeds, and the only one that does so actively rather than relying on simply swimming forward with its mouth open. Despite this, the whale shark has about 300 very small teeth, the purpose of which is unknown.
In addition to being the largest species of fish on the planet, whale sharks also have the thickest skin of any animal – about four inches thick. This skin is decorated with a pattern of yellowish white dots that is unique to each shark.
Whale sharks are usually solitary, but they can feed in groups. One particularly striking example of this behavior occurs around April off Australia, when immature males gather to feast on particularly plentiful plankton. Throughout their travels, whale sharks often cross entire oceans.
Whale sharks are considered vulnerable. One of the most important threats they face is shark finning – although their fins are not very popular to eat, because they are so large, they are highly prized for displays. In 1999, just one whale shark fin sold for around £11,000. Other threats include hunting for liver oil and meat and being caught accidentally as bycatch. It’s not all bad news, though! Some areas are protecting whale sharks in order to foster ecotourism.
Oceana’s shark campaign focuses on reducing shark bycatch, establishing shark finning bans, and implementing species-specific shark management.
At last, the good news you've been waiting for: California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill banning the trade of shark fins.
California has joined the ranks of Washington State, Oregon and Hawaii, who have all passed similar bans. Oceana supported this legislation from the beginning, and we are thrilled that Governor Brown has passed it into law, completing a West Coast ban.
Each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins, mostly to make shark fin soup. In this wasteful and cruel practice, a shark’s fins are sliced off while at sea and the remainder of the animal is thrown back into the water to die. Without fins, sharks bleed to death, drown, or are eaten by other species. In recent decades some shark populations have declined by as much as 99%.
Removing sharks from ocean ecosystems can destabilize the ocean food web and even lead to declines in populations of other species, including commercially-caught fish and shellfish species lower in the food web. While shark finning is illegal in the U.S., current federal laws banning the practice do not address the issue of the shark fin trade, so shark fins are imported to the U.S. from countries with few or even no shark protections in place.
“Today is a landmark day for shark conservation around the globe” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s Senior Pacific Director. “The leadership shown by legislatures and governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii sends a strong message that the entire US West Coast will no longer play a role in the global practice of shark finning that is pushing many shark species to the brink of extinction.”
A huge thanks to everyone who called your legislators and Governor Brown and helped secure this enormous victory for our oceans' top predators!
I’m thrilled to report that as of this afternoon, the entire U.S. West Coast has now banned the trade of shark fins.
After months of work by Oceana and our allies, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill banning the trade of shark fins, joining the ranks of a growing number of governments rallying to protect the top predators in the oceans. Washington State, Oregon and Hawaii have all passed similar bans.
As Oceana shark spokesperson January Jones and I wrote in the Huffington Post, each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins, mostly to make shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. Shark finning is a shocking practice in which a shark's fins are sliced off at sea and the animal is thrown back in the water to bleed to death. Shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, but that didn’t stop the shark fin trade.
According to government data, approximately 85 percent of dried shark fin imports to the United States came through California last year, making California the hub of the US shark fin market. Thanks to Governor Brown, this will no longer be the case.
Sharks have been on the planet for more than 400 million years, but populations around the world are crashing. They play a vital role in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems, but due to their slow growth rate and low level of reproduction, sharks are especially vulnerable to fishing pressure.
We couldn’t have scored this monumental victory for sharks without you. Thanks to all of you for helping protect the oceans’ top predators.
When journalist Juliet Eilperin began reporting the stories that have led to her most recent book, she says, “Many people said it was a natural transition from politicians to sharks.”
At a National Geographic Live event in DC last night, she discussed her book “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks,” about how human relationships with sharks have developed over centuries, and what may lie in their future.
She began by discussing the central role sharks played in the lives of traditional island cultures, from the shark god whom Hawaiians credited with inventing surfing to the common belief that sharks protected ships. But Eilperin said that during the Middle Ages, many European cultures essentially forgot about sharks.
Stark reminders of their power came when sailors noticed sharks following slave ships, and again in the early 1900s, when shark attacks on beachgoers were widely publicized. These incidents played into political campaigns and prompted government committees.
“There’s no question,” Eilperin said, “that Jaws had an incredible impact” on popular perceptions of sharks and their danger to humans. On average, shark attacks kill only five people a year, far less than other large predators, diseases, or even vending machines. However, she is quick to note that while plenty of people—even marine biologists!—were caught up in the scare, there were also some who became inspired to study sharks.
Things continue to look up for sharks in the Pacific.
Last night the California Senate passed a ban on the sale, trade, possession, and distribution of shark fins in the state. Oceana was instrumental in the passage of this bill to protect the ocean’s apex predators.
If the bill is signed into law by Governor Brown by October 9, a sweeping West Coast ban on the trade of shark fins will be complete. Washington passed similar legislation in May, followed by Oregon in early August. Hawaii, Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands have also passed similar bills.
While shark finning is illegal in the U.S., current federal laws banning the practice do not address the issue of the shark fin trade. As a result, fins are imported to the U.S. from countries with little to no shark protections in place. The only way to really address California’s contribution to the global declines in shark populations is to address the market demand for fins in the state.
The passage of this bill will help to protect global populations of at-risk shark species that are being targeted in unsustainable and unregulated fisheries worldwide.
Thanks to everyone who spoke up to help score this victory for sharks! You can see a list of the Senators who voted "aye" for the bill here.