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The trade in sharks and shark fins is a lucrative yet largely unmonitored business in the Philippines, according to a report from the Worldwide Fund for Nature and Traffic said.
The report An Overview of Shark Utilization in the Coral Triangle Region, examines the catch, trade, and management of sharks in waters of the six Coral Triangle countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor Leste, plus the neighbourin countries of Viet Nam and Fiji.
The findings, which were released at Seaweb’s 10th International Seafood Summit in Hong Kong yesterday, showed large gaps in the the data, monitoring and management of shark populations.
“A lack of data is detrimental to the sustainable management of sharks in the region and needs to be urgently addressed as sharks are heavily targeted in several of these countries,” said Glenn Sant, TRAFFIC Global Marine Programme Leader.
Rampant and illegal fishing practices
Although concerns for sharks are high, shark populations continue to decline due to lack of fisheries management and rampant illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Researchers said the main driver for the decline of shark populations is the growing appetite of China for shark fins, which is considered a luxury and a medicinal food.
“The vast majority of shark products come from unsustainable sources, not just fins,” said Andy Cornish, WWF Hong Kong Conservation Director. “Sharks are also heavily traded for their meat, skin, and liver oil.”
The WWF-Traffic urged Coral Triangle regions to implement sustainable fisheries plans to protect the habitat and populations of sharks.
Sharks, as top marine predators, help maintain the delicate balance of these marine ecosystems.
Of the 1,044 shark-related species, 181 are listed as threatened by IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Red List, while 488 are classified as data deficient.
“The development of sustainable shark fisheries in this region has a long way to go. None of the countries can currently claim to be effectively and responsibly managing their shark resources,” said Sant.
“The introduction of a comprehensive package of shark management measures must be a priority for these countries. Shark sanctuaries are an important component of this package as they provide an immediate and precautionary supplement to other management measures and, in particular, can provide much needed refuge and protected nursery areas for sharks,”
PHL lacks even basic data
The WWF-Traffic report noted that the Philippine government lacked even the most basic data on shark populations.
“There is essentially no species-based reporting in catch data provided to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization),” it added.
Based on estimates from various environmental groups, shark and shark fin trade in the Philippines is a well-established industry.
In 2006, SEAFDEC said the ten most commonly taken shark species in the Philippines (in order) are: Whitetip Reef Shark, Spurdog Squalus megalops; rays Rhinobatus spp., Brownbanded Bamboo Shark, Giant Guitarfish; Blacktip Shark; Sharptooth Lemon Shark Negaprion acutidens; Pelagic Thresher, Tiger Shark and Silvertip Shark.
According to data reported to the FAO, between 2000 and 2008 the Philippines reported exports of dried and salted shark fins (averaging 36 t/year) and Shark liver oil/ (19 t/year).
“In volume terms, the Philippines is a net importer of shark products with imports of Sharks averaging around 230 t/year over 2000-2008 and considerably higher, at around 500 t/year, between 2005 and 2008,” the report said.
PHL has no management plans at all
The report also noted that the Philippines does not have a plan to manage shark fisheries. Although it has classified the whale shark and manta rays as protected species that are banned for export, there is no protection for their habitats.
“Whale shark aggregation sites have been identified as priority conservation areas. There is no study on population estimates of any species of sharks in the Philippines,” the report said. — TJD, GMA News