Sharks are one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet, joining snakes as a species that many people tend to believe do more harm than good. But those assumptions are way off base for the most part. Humans do more harm to sharks than sharks could ever do, and to help to address the harm in the human/shark relationship, the Federated States of Micronesia, comprised of The Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, have passed a resolution calling for a shark sanctuary that encompasses more than two million square miles in the Western Pacific Ocean. This sanctuary would make it illegal to fish for sharks in the area and would ban the possession, sale and trade of shark fins, according to a report in Voxy, a news site based in New Zealand.
“This is a great accomplishment for all the advocates of global and regional shark conservation,” said Benigno Fitial, Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in a statement. “The protection of sharks will improve our ecosystem. Now we can have balance.”
The Federated States of Micronesia join Pohnpei, Honduras, the Bahamas, Palau, and the Maldives in protecting sharks by establishing shark sanctuaries. These island nations have realized that shark ecotourism is more profitable than shark fishing, the report said.
According to a report in Asia Sentinal, Taiwan will be the first Asian country to require fisherman to bring the entire shark into port, not just a dismembered shark carcass. This will enable government inspectors to ensure fisherman are in compliance with a fin-to-body ratio approved by the government.
While not a perfect measure, the Taiwanese government does realize that the practice of shark finning is controversial. The report also stated that the world’s fishing fleet harvests 23 million sharks a year, a United Nations estimate, to 73 million sharks a year, an estimate from Oceana North America, an environmental group that works to protect the world’s oceans. The market for shark fin soup is primarily in China, Taiwan, and areas of the world with large Chinese populations. The Chinese consider shark fin soup a delicacy and a sign of wealth. The environmental group WildAid released a study claiming that shark fins have high levels of mercury.
Shark finning, which violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, is practiced worldwide, with a large number of the fins coming from sharks caught off the coasts of China and Mexico. The practice has been decried for years by environmental groups such as Sea Shepherd and EnviroWatch, as well as conservationists and scientists who claim that the killing of so many sharks causes huge disruptions in the ecosystems in which the sharks are taken. Some sharks, such as the Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), are near extinction, hunted for their huge fins.