Humane Society International (HSI) and the NSW Nature Conservation Council (NCC) have today launched a campaign to end targeted shark fishing in Australia and a ban on the export of their fins.
Shark populations are in trouble in Australia and around the world and are unable to keep up with rising demand for their fins. Scientists have found that the global biomass of large predatory fish species such as sharks has decreased by 90%.
The conservation groups say that just as Australia realised in the late 1970s dramatic declines in whale numbers meant we could not hunt whales sustainably, we must accept that the same is true of sharks.
“With their slow reproductive capabilities, sharks are much more akin to whales than they are to other fish. This means that, like the whales, they cannot withstand hunting,”said Nicola Beynon, HSI Senior Program Manager.
The IUCN, the international body that determines the conservation status of species says that of the 1,046 species of sharks and their relatives around the world approximately 17% are threatened with extinction, 13% are considered ‘near threatened’, and we simply do not know the status of a further 47%.
In Australia seven species of shark are protected as threatened, four more are being considered for protection as threatened species because fishing has driven their populations so low. The IUCN has warned that further shark species targeted in Australian fisheries are threatened with extinction and the status of many more is of serious concern or dangerously unknown.
"It is incredible that in this day and age Australia still allows the large-scale hunting of endangered animals," said Cate Faehrmann, Executive Director of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.
“Despite grave concerns for the health of shark populations, shark fishing is on the increase in Australia, largely to feed the surging demand for fins in Asia,”said Ms Faehrmann. “Scientists are also warning that climate change may pose even more serious problems for sharks because of changes in the food chain,” said Ms Beynon.
In Queensland, shark fin exports to Asia increased fourfold in just 4 years between 2000 and 2004, with the bulk sourced from a fishery in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area of all places. The Federal Environment Minister is currently considering approving a proposal from the Queensland Government for this fishery to kill 600 tonnes of shark a year, which could amount to a staggering 70,000 sharks killed in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area a year, posing an enormous risk to the health of the ecosystem.
The NCC reports that catches of whaler sharks alone in NSW rose from an average of 165 tonnes per year to 440 tonnes in 2006/2007. The huge rise in catches is directly linked to the high prices paid for fins in Asian markets.
Australiais famous for its sharks and the Federal Government has championed international protection for species such as the great white and the whale shark.
The conservation groups are calling on the Australian Government to take a strong leadership position on international shark conservation and bring an end to targeted fishing for all shark species in Australian waters and a ban on the export of fins.