EU and Oz try weaken shark finning ban

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Bali, Indonesia 29.03.09:  More than 65 conservation, marine science, diving and sport fishing groups from around the world are urging the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) to reject European Union (EU) and Australian proposals that could weaken the regional ban on shark finning, the wasteful practice of cutting off a shark’s valuable fins and discarding the body at sea.

Conservationists oppose the proposed changes, which include placing severed shark fins in bags, because they would be exceptionally impractical to enforce and may increase plastic pollution which can choke sea turtles and birds.
The groups are asking instead for a requirement that fins remain naturally attached to any caught sharks, as this is the most reliable way to stop finning and can also improve information on the species of sharks being landed. Shark Alliance representatives will deliver a letter from over 65 groups tomorrow at the start of the week-long, annual IOTC meeting in Bali.
“It is distressing that Australia, usually a leader in shark fisheries management, and the EU, which pledged just weeks ago to strengthen its own finning ban, would propose reckless action with the potential to take us backwards in the battle against shark finning,” said Sonja Fordham, Policy Director for the Shark Alliance, who will participate in the IOTC meeting.
Like most international fisheries bodies, the IOTC has adopted a shark finning ban and enforces it by limiting the weight of shark fins on fishing vessels to 5% of the weight of the shark carcasses on board.  The rule aims to ensure the amount of fins and bodies are proportional to each other while still granting fishermen’s wishes to store shark parts separately.  For this year’s IOTC meeting, the EU has proposed abolishing the weight ratio and replacing it with two potentially disastrous options: to place shark fins in plastic bags which would be affixed to the corresponding carcass, or to mark shark fins and bodies with matching numbers and store them separately.  These options enjoy support from commercial fishing interests.  Australia has proposed several “fins attached” options, including one to place fins in sealed bags (not necessarily plastic) to be attached to numbered carcasses.
“Replacing current anti-finning measures with untested methods involving severed fins in plastic bags would increase the risks to not only sharks but to other marine wildlife as well.  Such complicated and unreliable methods are no longer necessary as more and more countries are successfully prohibiting the removal of shark fins at sea altogether, by far the best method for ensuring an end to this practice,” Fordham continued.
The EU and Australian proposals are based on rather vague advice from the IOTC Scientific Committee.  The Scientific Committee’s first preference is that shark fins remain naturally attached to bodies through landing.  The EU and Australian proposals highlight this finding, but are weakened by their options to remove fins.
“Because the IOTC finning ban is virtually the only safeguard for sharks in Indian Ocean, it is imperative that it is properly enforced,” said Sandrine Polti, Shark Alliance advisor, who will also attend the meeting.  “We urge all IOTC member governments to end finning without increasing plastics in the ocean by rejecting the EU and Australian proposals in favour of a requirement that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached.  Such action would also greatly improve species-specific data on catches, something that is desperately needed to assess the status of regional shark populations and limit catch to sustainable levels,” Polti concluded.







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