Right now the New Zealand Government is putting the final touches to its plans for a public consultation about sharks. Unfortunately, what we’re hearing from officials gives little room for optimism that they’ll do the right thing and draft a ban on shark finning in our waters. But that’s the beauty of public consultation – it’s our chance to influence public policy when the Government is out of whack with the views of most Kiwis.
Interviewed last week by TV3, an MPI official claimed “simply to ban finning doesn’t necessarily contribute to a healthy shark population”. Wait a minute: Blue sharks – the most commonly finned species in NZ – are almost all still alive when brought to the boat. Yet, because shark finning is legal, over 70% are killed, finned and dumped back overboard. If finning were banned, many of those sharks could instead be released alive. And a ban on finning doesn’t prevent fishers from keeping a dead shark, or even from using its fins as part of full processing – so sharks that are inadvertently caught and are already dead or dying could still be used. Only the most wasteful use – killing a shark just to hack off its fins before dumping 95% of the shark back overboard – would be banned.
A proposal to continue shark finning in our waters, legally, for at least the next five years, is simply not going to fly. And I think that deep down the Government knows it. That might explain why they’ve been dragging their heels on this consultation since November last year. The Minister must have a pretty clear idea by now of what New Zealanders think of wasteful fishing methods after he was swamped with 50,000 submissions on the proposed snapper rule changes. His proposal could have seen a significant cut in the recreational daily limit for snapper, while doing little to rein in the more indiscriminate snapper fishing methods like bottom trawling, which cause needless waste of snapper and bycatch of other ocean life. Does he really think that shark finning, surely one of the most wasteful fishing methods around, is going to be acceptable to New Zealanders? Or, for that matter, to those that buy the 90% of our seafood that is exported? Already many of our key export markets – Australia, the United States and the European Union – have banned shark finning themselves.
On the subject of things that won’t fly, we also heard this week that Emirates has become the latest airline to refuse to carry shark fins on its planes! Yesterday’s announcement by Emirates SkyCargo puts it on the growing list of airlines, including our own Air New Zealand, that are refusing to play a part in the shark fin trade.
Meanwhile, tiny Pacific nation the Marshall Islands is showing the rest of us what shark conservation looks like. The Marshall Islands consists of less than 200 square kilometres of land, yet its people are protecting over 2 million square kilometres of ocean in a shark sanctuary. This week they held a ceremony to dispose of shark fins that have been confiscated as they crack down on illegal fishing and shark finning in their waters. The ceremony coincides with their hosting of the Pacific Islands Forum, which John Key is attending.
Am I naive to hope that he is inspired by what a country with so few resources has been able to achieve for shark conservation, and returns home with the message that we need to pick up our game with our new shark plan?
If you want to have your say when the plan is released for consultation, sign our pledge now and we’ll let you know as soon as it starts.