Maldives Ban Shark Fishing

March 15th, 2010

Maldives Ban the Fishing of Sharks

The Maldives will make its territorial waters into a shark sanctuary, a government official said Tuesday, lending momentum to efforts to protect the fish at a United Nations endangered species conference that begins this week.

mdt 468 x60 03 Maldives Ban Shark Fishing

“We’ve decided to go ahead with a shark fishing ban,” Ibrahim Didi, the fisheries and agriculture minister of the Maldives, said by telephone from Male, the capital. “Beginning July 1 there will be a total ban on exports.”

Maldives, a Top Scuba Diving Destinations, Bans Shark Fishing

Maldives becomes the second nation to announce blanket protection for its sharks. Palau, a tiny Micronesian state, in September announced a ban on shark fishing. Like the Maldives, Palau is regarded as one of the world’s top scuba-diving destinations.

The Maldives exclusive economic zone covers about 90,000 square kilometers, or 35,000 square miles, roughly equivalent to the land area of Portugal.

In one sense, the bans represent pure economic logic. Researchers from James Cook University in Australia last year estimated that a single gray reef shark was worth $3,300 a year to the Maldivian tourism industry, compared with the one-time value of $32 that a fisherman would get from the same shark. They found a similar dynamic with regard to sharks on the Great Barrier Reef.

Check out more Maldives shark videos now!

But the bigger issue is a rapid decline in global shark stocks that has alarmed scientists. Up to 30 percent of shark species is  threatened with extinction, said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group. “If we don’t leave enough in the water, they won’t recover.”

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

baby white tip shark maldives Maldives Ban Shark Fishing

White Tip Shark

On Saturday, member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora begin meeting in Doha, Qatar, where they will consider giving protected status to eight species of sharks, including the scalloped hammerhead and oceanic whitetip, which inhabit Maldivian waters. The measures call for restrictions, but not a ban, on international trade.

In the United States, the Shark Conservation Act, which would sharply curtail the practice of “finning” — cutting off sharks’ fins and throwing the rest of the animal back into the sea — has passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting approval in the Senate.

Mr. Rand said more than 70 million of the fish were killed each year just to support the sharkfin trade. The vast majority of those are sold in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, where they are used in sharkfin soup. Fins can fetch as much as $120 per kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, in Hong Kong.

“Sharks don’t have the ability to rebound,” he said. “They grow slowly and they’re late to mature.”

Some sharks do not reach maturity until they are more than 10 years old and even then have only a few pups, so the stock cannot reproduce rapidly enough to make up for overfishing.

nurse shark maldives Maldives Ban Shark Fishing

Nurse Shark

Value of Sharks to the Maldives is in Tourism and Diving

The value of sharks to the Maldives “is clearly in tourism and diving,” Mr. Rand said. “Any diver will tell you that you get a rush of exhilaration when you see a shark, but you’re not scared. O.K., maybe sometimes you’re scared.”

Mr. Didi, the Maldivian fisheries minister, said his government began planning for a ban last year, but objections from fishermen delayed the decision. Now, he said, “they understand that it isn’t a sustainable fishery.”

The government will provide the fishermen with financial support and retraining, Mr. Didi said.

Shark meat is not a part of the traditional Maldivian diet, he said, and all of the fish were being caught for their fins, which were exported. But the value of the trade had shrunk by more than 80 percent over the last 12 years, to just $230,000, as the sharks became scarcer.

The Maldives’ shark-fishing ban could also give impetus to a thorny discussion in London over an initiative to create the world’s largest marine reserve in British territorial waters around the Chagos islands, the Indian Ocean archipelago where the Diego Garcia military base is located.

The Maldives has become particularly sensitive to environmental issues amid concern over global warming. In October, ministers donned scuba gear for the first cabinet meeting ever held underwater, to publicize the country’s vulnerability to rising seas. The highest natural point in the Maldives is just 2.4 meters, or less than eight feet, above sea level.

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