The fishing industry, scientists and government policy makers met to explore solutions to shark finning in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
All involved were taking a proactive stance in the face of international pressure on the conservation of sharks and ethics of finning. Shared issues of concern centered around viability of long-line fisheries and the reputation of New Zealand’s world renowned fisheries management system.
As a precursor to a revised National Plan of Action for Sharks, the Ministry of Primary Industries representatives and members of various fisheries sectors discussed solutions to reconcile policy desires for a tough stance on how sharks are utilised, with the practical realities of achieving it.
By-catch of blue sharks in the long-line fisheries epitomise the problems. Managed under the Quota Management System, abundance of blue sharks is high. Their susceptibility to long-lines means they occur regularly as by-catch in fisheries targeting tuna and swordfish. However, with no market for anything other than their fins, and the fact that carcasses ammoniate and spoil the rest of the fish catch, landing whole sharks leads only to increasing costs.
Put back alive, they return to bite another day being caught over and over again. Put back dead (carcasses only) means the 30 or so vessels in the fishery can continue to fish for their targets species; the value of fins providing recompense for the cost of lost and damaged gear. Not withstanding the personal safety issues associated with routinely handling large sharks, the vessels are ill equipped to do so. Rarely do they have extra fish holds necessary to store sharks from the target catch, and when brought to shore nobody wants them; their main destination is landfill.
Discussions were open and honest, a genuine intent to understand the issues and find workable solutions with government and environmental NGOs. With policy impacts likely to fall most heavily on the long-line fleet, suggestions came that a strong government policy should be matched by strong interventions to support industry. For example, supporting the industry to find ways to avoid shark by-catch or develop ways to handle and utilise them, should an obligation to land them become reality. However, government are likely to look to industry for the answer since ‘subsidies’ is one of New Zealand’s three dirty words. [the other two are road tax and nuclear!]
In an interesting twist to a lively debate, it seems that part of the solution might lie in landing shark trunks and throwing back the fins!