by Gareth Hughes
I was on Breakfast this morning talking about an open letter released this week from 40 international scientists documenting their concerns of shark management, with specific mention of the poor way New Zealand conducts shark conservation. The letter can be found here, but it essentially says what the Greens, Greenpeace, Forest and Bird, White Shark Conservation Trust, Shark Fin Free Auckland, WWF and so many others have been saying for so long: our sharks are in deep, deep trouble, and we aren’t doing nearly enough to help them.
Sharks are slow breeding, slow to mature, top predators and large shark species have seen their populations plummet 90% since the 1950s. New Zealand is particularly bad in this regard, we are the 14th biggest shark fin exporter in the world. The Ministry of Fisheries (now Ministry of Primary Industries) claims that our QMS (Quota Management System) is sufficient to protect sharks, but this is really just empty rhetoric. The QMS is weak, with arbitrary quotas, inadequate stock monitoring, and frequent instances of gross underreporting. For species with better stock information the QMS can be an effective tool, but we have no idea what sort of shark populations we have in our waters, so to set any sort of quota is delusional guesswork. When it comes to sharks, our QMS sorely lacks teeth. This was made so apparent by the recent incident aboard the squid fishing boat Oyang 77, where a 5 tonne basking shark had its tail torn off during attempts to remove it from the boat. This incident was not reported, and it is only due to the footage released by a crew member that we know about it.
We urgently need to offer sharks better protection in this country, and luckily we have the chance now. This year, the National Plan of Action for the management of sharks is due for review, which means that the Government has the perfect opportunity to catch up with the rest of the developed world in our shark management, by implementing an international best practice policy of ‘fins naturally attached’, which I’ve blogged on before.
We are playing catch up with the world. Major global powers, and trading partners, Australia, the USA, and the EU all have fins naturally attached policies. Tokelau, along with a host of other states, have outright bans on shark fishing. All sharks and rays have enjoyed complete protection in Israeli waters since 1980. All of these countries have recognised and understood the simple truth that we are still running from; that without healthy ecosystems, all marine utilisation is jeopardised.
It’s not difficult to fix this. We’re not short on international examples, and should we ask we would have an abundance of sensible, costed advice on how to introduce the necessary protections. Because right now, we are an international embarrassment. Our hypocrisy is simply staggering, and it will be with our heads hanging in shame that we will attend the Rio+20 Sustainable Development conference in three weeks time.
The real shame is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We know exactly what sharks need. We know exactly how to get there. We know that it works internationally. Policy development and implementation really doesn’t get much easier than this! All it will take is a little political leadership from the National-led government, and we could join the enviable ranks of countries able to say ‘fin‘ to finning.