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Northern Marianas leads Pacific Islands in fight against shark finners

By Lucy Brake - 16 Dec 2010 12:51:9 GMT
Northern Marianas leads Pacific Islands in fight against shark finners

Sharks living in the ocean around the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) have suffered from intense overfishing and poaching for their valuable fins. Sharks in particular are vulnerable to illegal fishing because, as a species, they reproduce very slowly. This has seen a sharp decrease in the population rates around the CNMI and the rest of the world as the sharks struggle to overcome these significant threats.

Increasingly, it is recognised that the presence of sharks in the marine ecosystem is important for regulating the commercial fisheries balance as well as maintaining coral reef populations. It is estimated that over 70 million sharks are slaughtered each year in the hunt for shark fins for soup and that this has lead to some populations of sharks dropping to only 10% of their original numbers.

The new legislation is focused on an appreciation of the role of a shark in the entire marine ecosystem. They are a key species as they sit at the top of the food chain. The recent increase in demand for shark fin soup has had a devastating impact on shark numbers and the Northern Mariana Islands have taken a decisive step to outlaw this destructive act.

The legislation itself, based on the bill recently approved in the State of Hawaii, makes it illegal ''for any person to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute shark fins in the CNMI''. This takes the Pacific Islands one step closer to protecting a species vital to the ocean ecosystem they are reliant upon for their very survival. Palau has also taken a strong position on protecting sharks from finning and now the two island nations are pathing the way for other Pacific Island countries.

Two international groups actively involved in protecting sharks, WildAid and Shark Savers, have applauded the introduction of the bill. ''Increasingly, the countries most dependent on the ocean are rallying to the defense of sharks, perhaps the ocean's most important inhabitants,'' said Michael Skoletsky, of Shark Savers. ''The CNMI's intelligent decision to preserve sea life will benefit future generations and attract lucrative underwater tourism, rather than allowing foreign fisheries and shark fin cartels to plunder its resources.''

The biggest issue now for the CNMI, as well as the rest of the Pacific Islands, will be just how they will fund the monitoring on the water needed to catch the shark finners red handed.