The Senate of Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean, passed a bill today banning the sale, possession and distribution of shark fins. With this legislation, sponsored by the Guam Senate’s Vice Speaker B.J. Cruz, the Pacific islands continue to lead the world in the fight for shark conservation. It now moves to Governor Eddie Baza Calvo for his signature.
“More and more, we see the islands of the Pacific stand tall against commercial fishing fleets that are depleting shark populations,” said Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group. “Pacific island leadership is helping these fish, threatened by the fin trade, to keep their place as apex predators in the ocean food chain. Guam, a major fishing hub, now joins other Pacific Ocean voices in support of shark conservation.”
Worldwide, up to 73 million sharks are killed every year primarily for their fins, which are valued for their use in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. As a result, 30 percent of the world’s species are threatened or near-threatened with extinction. For an additional 47 percent of species, scientists lack sufficient data to properly assess their population status.
The impact of the shark fin trade on Guam’s waters was recently documented by University of Guam Associate Professor of Fisheries Dr. Jenny McIlwain. At a legislative hearing, Professor McIlwain testified that she found four times as many sharks off Fiji and northwest Australia than she did in Guam’s waters.
“The fin trade has devastated too many shark populations, even though many studies have shown that these animals are worth far more alive as a tourist draw than dead,” concluded Rand. “We must stop this wasteful fishing practice before it is too late.”
With few shark-catching countries looking to improve how they manage their fisheries, the world is increasingly hearing from small island nations and territories—places where ecotourism is a viable industry—on the need for meaningful conservation action:
- In March 2009, Delegate Madeleine Bordallo of Guam introduced the Shark Conservation Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. It took almost two years to move the bill, which closed loopholes in the U.S.’s finning prohibition, through both houses of Congress. The bill was signed into law in January 2011.
- In September 2009, the Pacific island nation of Palau declared its waters a shark sanctuary, prohibiting them from being commercially fished. The Maldives, in the Indian Ocean, and Honduras took similar steps in early 2010.
- In May 2010, Hawaii passed a state law prohibiting the possession, sale or distribution of shark fins, and in January of this year, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands passed a similar bill.