Sunday, March 21, 2010

Guest Post on Hammerheads by Dr. Phaedra Doukakis - Shark-infested waters at CoP15

Dive underneath the waters here at CoP15 and you’ll find lots of voracious predators amongst the coral and tuna. But back to the proposals…sharks will take center stage in the coming days and it’s the first time in history that we have this many sharks on the line. And for good reason. The fin trade is a big reason why sharks are declining globally. One group of sharks on the agenda, the hammerheads significantly contribute to the global fin trade. Their fins are particularly yummy, I’m told, because they have lots of fibers (and who doesn’t need a little more fiber, right?). A recent report showed that the trade in scalloped hammerhead fins was globally-sourced and that many fins in Hong Kong markets trace back to depleted Western Atlantic stocks. So, international trade monitoring would this do a lot to manage these sharks. Hammerheads are particularly vulnerable given their gestation periods similar to humans (8-12 months) and slow population growth rates. And stocks have declined 90-98% in some regions.

Some years ago, I worked on shark fisheries in a tiny little bay in northeastern Madagascar. At that time I remember being shocked by the fact that the remote place supported a large shark fin fishery. Several rounds of DNA analysis later I came to find that the bulk of this fishery was hammerheads. Amazing how far-reaching our impact on our oceans can be! An Appendix II listing would give us the tools to control shark fisheries in Madagascar and elsewhere by monitoring the number of fins in trade. In turn, we can prevent the global collapse of fisheries and ecosystems that could occur through removal of top predators. We, like the hammerheads, can have 360 degree vision by providing more protection at CoP15 for these majestic creatures.

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