Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Shark-finning continues in Palau

Originally posted Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Despite Palau's strong anti-shark finning laws the destruction of Palau's sharks continues!

Foreign fishing fleets licensed by Palau to fish in their territorial waters are repeatedly caught with illegal shark catches onboard and yet the country continues to encourage and allow their presence.

Foreign fishing is supposedly a big financial contributor to Palau's small economy though considerable debate exists as to whether or not that indeed is the case. Trying to get accurate revenue statistics on this industry is next to impossible. Tourism and specifically dive tourism is the current mainstay of Palau's emerging economy and to date is the only viable and productive industry established in Palau. As President Tommy Remengesau Jr. noted, the environment in Palau is the economy and nothing could be closer to the truth in case of Palau's dive industry. Palau is repeatedly top-ranked by divers worldwide for an abundance of large pelagic animals particulary schools of sharks as can be seen at Blue Corner, Palau's "signature" dive. It doesn't take a scientist to figure out that destroying Palau's sharks will severely impact and or destroy it's diving industry without which the country will continue to deepen it's dependence on foreign funding.

It is widely speculated that the large amount of finacial assistance pouring in to Palau from Taiwan is among the leading reasons Palau chooses not to rid itself of the licensed (mostly Taiwanese) foreign fishing vessels that repeatedly and demonstrably pillage Palau's marine resouces thereby robbing Palau of any hope of financial independence. Not surprisingly, the majority of foreign fishing companies in Palau exist with assistance from powerful and influential Palauans without whose support these companies could not operate here.

Marine law enforcement personnel, Customs officers and the Attorney Generals staff are engaged in trying to stem the destruction and have quite a number of successes under their belt. But the truth is that they are fighting an uphill battle against a well organized, well funded and well connected opponent and every success is overshadowed by the sheer volume of destruction that escapes detection and or prosecution.

It is a complex problem that requires a lot effort and resources to overcome and like any solution it has to start somewhere with someone. Palau has made solid first steps with strong laws against shark-finning and stepped up enforcement efforts but more work is needed. Enforcement requires personnel, equipment, expertise and great expense far beyond Palau's limited resources. Though Palau is a small country it has many strong, influential and wealthy friends including the United States with whom it is closely aligned under a Compact of Free Association, and the United Nations of which Palau is among the newest country members.

Foreign fishing fleets from wealthy powerful nations are guilty of stealing the natural resources of a sovereign nation (Palau). They operate with almost total impunity just like bullies in a playground who pick on the smaller guys because they know they can't fight back. It makes one wonder where are Palau's friends when needed and when will Palau sum up the courage to take on the neighborhood bullies.

Save our Sharks!

Monday, January 9, 2006

Just two years after Palau was named “Shark Guardian of the Year” by European based shark conservation organization “Sharkproject” and received international acclaim for enacting tough new laws designed to protect Palau’s dwindling shark population, licensed foreign fishing vessels continue to profit from the illegal slaughter of sharks.

In January of 2006, two licensed foreign fishing vessels operating under Kuniyoshi Fishing Company (KFC), were caught with illegal shark catches on board. One vessel was arrested offshore by Palau patrol boat “Remiliik” after fishing in Palau’s waters and then trying to flee the area instead of off-loading their catch in Koror. The vessel was escorted to Malakal Harbor where 96 shark bodies and basket loads of shark fins were found onboard in addition to a significant tuna catch. If the patrol boat had not arrested this vessel it would not only have escaped with an illegal shark catch but would also have taken a significant tuna catch and unloaded it outside of a Palau, another violation of its’ license that robs Palau of a supposed benefit of allowing licensed foreign fishing vessels to operate in Palau’s waters.

The criminal destruction of Palau’s natural resources generates huge profits for fishing companies but does little to benefit Palau or Palauans. Palau’s primary industry for the foreseeable future is tourism a large part of which is built around scuba-diving, which in turn is built around Palau’s reputation for large marine animals such as sharks. When the sharks and other large creatures are gone so will a large part of Palau’s competitive edge in the diving market along with the revenue generated by live sharks.

A lot of lip-service is given to discussions on the need for sustainable development to support Palau’s long term economic future. The senseless and criminal destruction of Palau’s sharks is about the most un-sustainable practice that can be engaged in when it comes to destroying Palau’s long term economic future. It’s an absolute tragedy with an unavoidably high price tag. As apex predators in the marine food chain and key players in maintaining healthy reef populations, protecting and preserving sharks is an absolute requirement if Palau hopes to maintain a healthy marine environment and a thriving diving industry. Presently and sadly, key decisions on Palau’s fate are left in the hands of fishing companies and foreign fishing vessels that to date have demonstrated nothing but irresponsibility and disregard for Palau’s natural resources, conservation laws or long term economic future. This must change now. Tomorrow will be too late.

Last month an Indonesian boat crew fishing illegally off Ausstralia's Northern Territory used burning poles, lead weights and machetes to fight off customs officers. Officers took control after a chase lasting several hours. They found a large quantity of shark fins and 50 shark carcasses in the hold.

A government source said: "We suspect that Chinese criminal cartels are behind many of the boats.

Shark fins can fetch £400 per kilo,