Thursday, August 27, 2009

Savings Sharks in Palau – Bad & Good News!

A Broken Record on Repeat ! But wait! ...there's more.........

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my Blog on what’s happening with sharks, shark protection, and the efforts to repeal Palau’s landmark shark protection legislation which is among the toughest in the world. There is much to report and my lack of posting is simply a reflection of the incredible and almost overwhelming pressure bearing down on sharks and shark conservation in Palau from so many angles that it is simply impossible for Palau’s marine law enforcement personnel let alone one person such as me to keep on top of things. We need help on every front and appreciate the efforts of those already engaged.

I’ve not been idle in the battle to protect Palau’s sharks but alas neither have those intent on exploiting Palau’s sharks regardless of the environmental or economic consequences. Just as in the case of the numerous “Survivor” shows that have been shot in Palau, when it comes to shark protection and marine law enforcement it continues to be a case of who will outlast, outplay and outwit whom. Shall good triumph over evil?


In my last post back in April 2009, I reported on the continuing pillage of Palau’s sharks by foreign fishing vessels. Sadly but oh! so predictably it continues just as before. Most recently (August 2009) there was yet another in a long and growing list of foreign fishing vessels caught illegally fishing in Palau’s waters and of course upon inspection, it was found to be loaded with sharks and shark fins. The officers and crew of Palau’s lone patrol boat “REMELIIK” are to be commended for their ongoing efforts to bring these international criminals to justice but unfortunately not everyone in Palau, including some of our leaders, appear to respect the importance, significance and sacrifices of their work.

Weakening or repealing Palau's present shark protection laws as proposed in SB 8-44, will almost certainly prevent Palau's law enforcement personnel from successfully prosecuting high seas criminals hell bent on stealing Palau's sovereign resources.

I was on vacation and therefore not around to photograph and document the shocking catch of yet another illegal shark-finning pirate, but unfortunately it probably looks the same as the myriad images I’ve already taken over the years of senselessly slaughtered sharks, so I’m posting some file photos instead, all of which are taken in Palau.

LEGISLATION (SB 8-44): (More Bad News!)

It’s also no secret that earlier this year (March 17 post) Senate Bill (SB) 8-44 was introduced by one of Palau’s newly elected Senators which proposes to repeal Palau’s world-leading shark protection laws and instead permit and promote commercial shark fishing and shark finning for the supposed economic gain of Palau. No evidence or data was included in the bill that supported an economic argument justifying the bills introduction quite likely because there is none.

The real issue is the battle between those who seek to exploit Palau’s resources for short term and or personal gain at any cost and those who believe in the sustainable management of Palau's natural resources for the long term benefit of the entire community.

While the message being put forth by supporters of the proposed legislation for commercial shark fishing and finning (SB 8-44) is one of “we are taking care of Palauans”, conversations with many other Palauans indicate that they are repulsed by what is being proposed (supposedly to their benefit) by some of their leaders. There is great concern that SB 8-44 is being driven by wealthy overseas commercial fishing companies, especially from the Philippines, that may have compromised sound decision-making by some of Palau's leaders in exchange for personal gain.

Palauans have long history of sustainable use of their resources. It is not a new idea. On the contrary it is a practice that has been integral to Palauans' survival for hundreds of years. When Palauans are exposed to the real truth and evidence of the massive damage and destruction already being done to their fisheries by illegal foreign fishing companies they will surely be even more revolted. It's not just about sharks, it concerns all of Palau's marine resources. The waters of Palau's Exclusive Economic Zone are under immense and ever-increasing onslaught by licensed and unlicensed fishing companies seeking out every last living creature within. Aerial surveillance shows strings of illegally placed FADs (Fish Attracting Devices) placed in Palau's waters and surrounded by foreign fishing vessels that are quite likely taking everything they possibly can including tuna, sharks, turtles, rays and anything else that will turn a profit for them. And where does the money go? In to the hands of foreign fishing companies and the pockets of those who do their bidding. And what about Palau's fisheries? Most every Palauan fisherman will readily admit that there are less fish in their waters today than a mere ten years ago.

While it may take science to prove that, it certainly doesn't take a scientist to figure out that it's true. And it makes sense. Palau's waters are being vacuumed bare at an ever increasing rate both legally and illegally....but it's been out of sight and scrutiny of the community for many years. Now the effects of unsustainable destruction of high seas fisheries are beginning to be seen closer to shore and questions are now being raised within the community. Instead of weakening shark protection laws there are a growing number that belives it is time for Palau to toughen and broaden protection of its' marine resources and to punish scofflaw illegal fishing companies for their acts of piracy, in full view of the international community. Palau can do it!

Although Palau is among the newest and smallest countries in the world and within the United Nations, Palau has long track record of strong leadership in conservation that shames many of the so called and much wealthier developed nations.

Just as one person can make a difference, so too can one country.

GOOD NEWS! (And we sure need some!)

For now, SB 8-44 is deferred until the next Congress session in October (at which time it will undoubtedly rear its ugly head once again). It's a good start for now and one we hope to build on. Many thanks to all who helped thus far.

On another positive note, the dive industry, tour companies, Palau Chamber of Commerce, Belau Tourism Association, Palau Visitors Authority and a growing number of private individuals are strongly united in opposition to SB 8-44. Palau Chamber of Commerce and Belau Tourism Association have issued strong public statements in opposition to any lessening of shark protection in Palau and in fact may soon call for even stronger shark protection legislation.

With the aid of Michael Skoletsky more than 4,500 signatures have already been collected from around the world and delivered to Palau’s leadership voicing clear opposition to the legalization of shark fishing and shark finning proposed in SB 8-44. Yet another testament that one person can indeed make a difference. I urge you to get involved!

This very moment there are members of PEW Foundation ( on the ground in Palau assessing the situation and evaluating where and when they may be of assistance to Palau in securing the continued and increased protection of our sharks. Thus far they have been very positively received and are quite impressed with the strong sentiment in the community that shark fishing and shark finning are both inappropriate and unacceptable practices in Palau's waters.

I'm also very pleased to report that the House of Traditional Leaders, a powerful organization of Palauan traditional chiefs that serves in an advisory capacity to elected President H.E. Johnson Toribiong, are in opposition to any weaking of Palau's strong shark protection laws.

I will wrap this rather lengthy post with the message of hope that while the plight of sharks worldwide is indeed depressing and demoralizing, the growing resolve of the community in Palau to fight for their protection, regardless of the odds, is both invigorating and inspirational.

One person can make a difference. Every persons effort counts. If you care about the health of the oceans, this is the time to stand up and be counted too. Get involved!

No comments:

Post a Comment