Call for urgent action on oceanic whitetip sharks

By Bernadette Carreon

Port Moresby, PNG – December 9, 2019: 10.40pm (PEJN): Fishing nations must adopt a suite of new measures to reduce oceanic whitetip shark deaths according to the PEW Charitable trust – one of a host of countries and organizations attending the most important fishing talks of the year.

Fishing gear such as wire leaders and shark lines must be banned, safe-handling techniques for to return snared sharks to the wild improved and coverage of independent observers tasked with data collection increased PEW said.

2019 stock assessment commissioned by the multi-national regulatory body the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) indicates that oceanic whitetip sharks are in peril and will become extinct if overfishing continues.

The multi-national WCPFC is holding its week-long annual session in Port Moresby Papua New Guinea until 11th December.

Earlier this year, the Scientific Committee (SC15) of the WCPFC recommended actions to mitigate catch and improve safe handling and release practices.

“Prohibiting the use of wire leaders and shark lines would cut fishing-related mortality. Better safe-handling techniques, such as cutting the trailing gear as close to the hook as possible and keeping the shark in the water alongside the vessel, are also needed to further reduce mortality,” PEW in a statement said.

The latest science showed that oceanic whitetip population has declined by around 95% according to environmental organization WWF.

The analysis commissioned WCPFCC “concluded that oceanic whitetip would go extinct in this vast expanse of the Pacific in the long-term at the current levels of fishing.”

“It is unbelievable that a species that could be counted in the millions in the past is now facing extinction in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, an area covering almost 20% of the Earth’s surface,” said John Tanzer, Leader, Oceans at WWF International.

“Urgent action is required to start rebuilding the oceanic whitetip population and to ensure that no other open ocean shark or ray ends up in such a disastrous position in the first place,” added Tanzer.

Indonesia meanwhile has proposed a measure to improve data collection for sharks as bycatch in tuna fisheries.

The proposal notes that the commission needs to improve:

  • data collection on annual national catches estimate to include catch an estimate of sharks by gear by species;
  • shark identification training for enumerators;
  • provide sharks identification card for enumerators;
  • strengthen port sampling data collection to include bycatch landed at the port including key sharks species;
  • strengthen fishing logbook implementation on sharks catch data; and observer data collection that includes released and discarded of catches data;
  • Strengthen surveillance officer involvement for catches monitoring in the field.

Bubba Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager at WWF said he is optimistic that with several members of the commission pushing for comprehensive shark management measure, there is an indication that a policy will be put in place in this year’s fisheries meeting.

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