Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Republic of Palau Burns Illegal Shark Fin Catch

On May 6, 2003 Republic of Palau President, Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. and Minister of Justice, Michael Rosenthal set fire to a large catch of shark fins taken from a Taiwanese fishing vessel caught fishing illegally in Palau's waters.
A patrol boat from Palau's Marine Law Enforcement Division captured the Taiwanese vessel “Sheng Chi Hui #7” while it was engaged in illegally fishing for sharks in waters close to the Palau island of Angaur. Upon boarding and inspection of the licensed vessel, large numbers of steel leaders that are used to specifically target the capture of sharks, were discovered on board. The vessels holds were full of shark carcasses many of which had already had their fins removed. Authorities confiscated more than 1,600 pounds of shark fins and over 400 shark carcasses weighing in excess of 10 tons.
Outraged at the continued targeting and destruction of Palau's shark population by Taiwanese fishing fleets and the minimal fines allowed under current Palau laws, President Remengesau ordered the burning of the captured shark fins, over the objections of those who wanted them sold to generate revenue, to highlight the need for Palau Congress to improve laws protecting sharks. “Sheng Chi Hui #7” was fined less than $13,000 for a variety of offenses. Shark fins reportedly sell in Hong Kong for U.S. $180 per pound or more. A staunch environmentalist, Remengesau told those who gathered to witness the bonfire: “Our message is very clear today: We will not tolerate shark fishing in the waters of Palau.”

Dermot Keane, Founder of Palau Shark Sanctuary, and manager of a local dive business also addressed the crowd and urged them to support the passage of a declaration by the Republic of Palau to establish the waters within Palau's Exclusive Economic Zone, as a sanctuary for all sharks within. Palau Shark Sanctuary was founded in Koror, Palau on November 2001, in response to the ongoing destructive practice of “shark-finning” by foreign fishing fleets in Palau's waters. Shark Sanctuary supports itself through sales of its private logo merchandise, donating proceeds to programs and agencies joining them in their fight to save Palau's sharks. “Loss of Palau's sharks threatens not only Palau's underwater environment but also its entire dive industry, a mainstay of Palau's economy” Keane said. “As Palau is internationally recognized among top dive destinations in the world, it is therefore fitting that Palau takes a leadership role in the worldwide battle to end the destructive practice of shark-finning” he went on to say.

Palau Shark Sanctuary goal is to achieve a declaration by the Republic of Palau, perpetually establishing all waters within Palau's Exclusive Economic Zone, as a World Shark Sanctuary offering protection to all sharks within. Keane says he realizes that establishing a World Shark Sanctuary in Palau is a big challenge but believes it is a worthwhile goal nonetheless, and one that will benefit Palau and its economy in the years to come.

Images: Courtesy Ethan Daniels