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,

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