Palau bans shark fishing-once again, tiny nations take the lead on marine conservation

The Republic of Palau, the island nation in the western Pacific, has banned shark fishing in its waters.  The overfishing of sharks, really the outright devastation of their populations, is one of the really big problems in marine conservation.  The causes run from the Steven Spielberg movie Jaws in 1975 (which turned the world against sharks and initiated global hunts, much like the crazed efforts to kill off wolves and panthers in the US) to the Asian market and appetite for shark fin soup.

Baum et al (2003) and many others have documented the collapse of shark populations and the many cascading effects removing top predators from ecosystems has.


Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) — The Pacific nation of Palau is creating the first shark sanctuary, banning commercial fishing of all sharks in its waters from vessels that hunt the predators for their fins, coveted in soups as an Asian delicacy.

Johnson Toribiong, president of the island republic, announced the commercial shark-fishing ban today at the United Nations General Assembly, saying “the strength and beauty of sharks are a natural barometer for the health of our oceans.”

Shark populations are in danger of collapse along with salmon and tuna commercial fisheries because of scant protective measures. Great whites, hammerheads and a third of deep-sea sharks and rays face extinction as fishing fleets trawling worldwide seek them for meat and fins, according to the Gland, Switzerland-based IUCN conservation group.

“The situation for sharks at the moment is catastrophic,” said Carl-Gustaf Lundin, head of marine conservation at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. “Their populations around the world are at risk of collapse.”  Palau, with 20,000 inhabitants spread over about 200 islands, today formally established a France-sized area of sea banning shark hunting, setting up a protective zone to help preserve the predatory fish and support local tourism.

“Palau will become the world’s first national shark sanctuary,” Toribiong said, “ending all commercial shark fishing in our waters and giving a sanctuary for sharks to live and reproduce unmolested in our 237,000 square miles of ocean.”  Sharks often become snared in nets meant for tuna, which remain in high demand among consumers. About 10.7 million blue sharks are killed annually for their fins, many of which are sold at the Hong Kong shark fin market, according to a June report from IUCN.


From DotEarth:  The Pacific island nation of Palau has declared all of its waters a sanctuary for sharks. The archipelago, famed among biologists and divers for its rich marine life, has seen increases in illegal shark fishing, driven by the high prices paid for shark fins in China. I met President Johnson Toribiong earlier this week as the United Nations climate summit ended, and he described the problems, which are particularly troublesome in a place where tourism revolving around reef diving is a top source of income.

Today, while addressing the U.N. General Assembly, he planned to announce a ban on all commercial shark fishing in Palau’s 242,858-square-mile exclusive economic zone, while also calling for a global moratorium on catching sharks only for their fins. Given that, for the moment, Palau has only one enforcement vessel to patrol an ocean zone a bit smaller than Texas, the challenge of turning a ban from rhetoric to reality remains. But Palau is getting significant support from private groups, particularly the Pew Charitable Trusts, which worked with groups and government officials in Palau to create the sanctuary plan.

Sadly, I am skeptical that such a proclamation can have much effect, given the industrial scale fishery for shark fins that has developed over the last decade.  And also the difficulty of monitoring such a large area to enforce the decree.  Shark fishing is in theory illegal within many large reserves like the Galapagos Marine Reserve, yet in reality, illegal shark fishing there, and elsewhere is common.

Jennifer Jacquet, who used to write the shifting baseline blog, recently published a paper on the surprisingly large size of the shark fishery in Ecuador alone:

Sharks never stop growing and neither does the Asian demand for sharkfin soup. Ecuador is one nation of many that feeds the demand for fins, and fishers there catch more than 40 different shark species. But shark catches have been considerably underreported worldwide. Until the 2005 update of fisheries data, the United Nations ood and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) did not report elasmobranches for Ecuador indicating that the Ecuadorian government did not report on these species. This study reconstructs Ecuador’s mainland shark landings from the bottom up from 1979 to 2004. Over this period, shark landings for the Ecuadorian mainland were an estimated 7000 tonnes per year, or nearly half a million sharks. Reconstructed shark landings were about 3.6 times greater than those retroactively reported by FAO from 1991 to 2004. The discrepancies in data require immediate implementation of the measures Ecuadorian law mandates: eliminating targeted shark captures, finning and transshipments, as well as adoption of measures to minimise incidental capture. Most of all, a serious shark landings monitoring system and effective chain of custody standards are needed.

ecuador sharks

Also see “Belize passes a law to limit the fishing of reef herbivores” here


Baum J.K., Myers R.A., Kehler D.G., Worm B., Harley S.J. & Doherty P.A. (2003) Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the Northwest Atlantic. Science, 299, 389-392

Jacquet, Jennifer, Juan Jose Alava, Ganapathiraju Pramod, Scott Henderson and Dirk Zeller. In hot soup: sharks captured in Ecuador’s waters. Environmental Sciences, Vol. 5, No. 4, December 2008, 269–283

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