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Eight countries agree to giant shark sanctuaries banning commercial fishing

Monday, October 3rd 2011 - 07:46 UTC
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Sharks can be more valuable alive Sharks can be more valuable alive

Leaders from eight countries launched an initiative to prevent the extinction of sharks, symbolizing the latest development in the growing movement to safeguard the ocean's top predator. Members of the coalition committed to a declaration supporting the development of sanctuaries that end commercial shark fishing in their national waters.

This announcement comes just one year after President Johnson Toribiong of Palau and President Porfirio Lobo Sosa of Honduras issued launched a global challenge to protect dwindling shark species. Several countries, states and territories have answered that call by committing to a range of conservation policies.

This year, Honduras, the Bahamas, the Maldives and Tokelau have created sanctuaries for sharks off their shores, and the countries of Micronesia committed to establishing them in their waters.

Commercial fishing of these animals is now prohibited in more than 2.7 million sq km., an area larger than Mexico and Texas combined. Domestically, trade bans on sharks and shark products recently passed in California, Washington and Oregon, and internationally in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

“With each new sanctuary, sharks gain another ally in their fight for survival,” said Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group, the organization which is spearheading efforts to establish shark sanctuaries where targeted fishing for the species is prohibited.

Sharks are especially vulnerable to over-fishing because they mature and reproduce slowly. As top predators, their depletion also has risks for the health of entire ocean ecosystems.

Up to 73 million of these animals are killed each year to support the global fin trade, while 30% of all sharks are threatened or near threatened with extinction. Some populations, such as the scalloped hammerhead, have declined by up to 98%.

But many governments are recognizing that sharks are more valuable alive and can be a key economic driver as a tourist attraction.

“The shark sanctuary here supports the health of our ocean environment and economy,” said Honduran President Lobo Sosa. “However, these species migrate beyond our waters, so it is necessary for us to work together to ensure that their populations and marine ecosystems are healthy.”

Sharks are the intended catch of some fisheries. They are also frequently caught unintentionally as by catch. In certain fishing operations, including open sea longliners that target tuna and swordfish, as much as 25% of the take can be shark by catch.

“When I created Palau's sanctuary in 2009, I knew our country's action could not accomplish the task of conserving the ocean's vast biodiversity alone,” said Palauan President Toribiong. “Our ocean's health depends on sharks. I am delighted that more countries are pledging to play an active role in ensuring these creatures' survival, not just in our lifetime but for future generations as well”

Under the declaration supported by the Bahamas, Colombia, Honduras, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia and Palau, up to 6 million additional sq km—greater than three times the land mass of Mexico—could be off-limits to commercial shark fishing and designated as shark sanctuaries. By signing the pledge, signatories commit to: Maintaining or developing shark sanctuaries; Working together internationally to ensure healthy shark populations; and Advocating for better science-based precautionary protection for sharks in all international for a.

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