9 Dec 2019

Pacific call for urgent action as white tip sharks face extinction

10:01 am on 9 December 2019

By Bernadette Carreon

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 organisations and nations attending the most important fishing talks of the year.

The oceanic whitetip shark.

The oceanic whitetip shark. Photo: Wikimedia / OldakQuill

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

The 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 11 December.

Earlier this year, the Scientific Committee 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 said in a statement.

The latest science showed that oceanic whitetip population has declined by around 95 percent 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 percent 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," said Mr Tanzer.

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

The proposal notes that the commission needs to improve the following:

  • Data collection on annual national catches estimate to include catch 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 port including key sharks species;
  • Strengthen fishing log book implementation on sharks catch data; and observer data collection that include released and discarded of catches data;
  • Strengthen surveillance officer involvement for catches monitoring in the field.

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

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