Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Fight to Save New Jersey's Sharks Heats Up

Greetings everyone. I hope all is well as always! Today's blog is going to be about a New Jersey Senate Economic Growth Committee meeting that took place on Thursday, February 12th, 2015. I was fortunate enough to attend this meeting so I naturally do have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this meeting. Attending the meeting were representatives from the Shark Research Institute, Jenkinson's Aquarium, Born Free USA, The Humane Society USA, The Humane Society International, the Sierra Club, and Garden State Seafood. The bill was proposed by senator Lesniak Before getting into all of that though I will quickly go over the proposed bill (S. 2057).

The bill is largely modeled off the bills that have been passed by 9 states that outlaws the sale and possession of shark fins. What that means is pretty self explanatory. In the states where these laws exist, including New York and California, There are a couple exceptions that the New Jersey bill would contain. The first exception is that "possession"  would not include fins that were taken from a legally landed shark. The fins would not be allowed to be sold, but a fisherman would not be in trouble for possessing shark fins that he obtained by catching a shark. Second, the bill would not include smooth or spiny dogfish, two species of small shark that have seen their populations increase a great deal off of New Jersey. The possession exception gives both commercial and recreational fisherman free ability to continue to fish for sharks, but bars them from profiting on the animal's fins. The second exception is largely for commercial fisheries who ship dogfish meat to Europe to be used in fish and chips and the fins to Asian markets.To sum it up, this bill would be another step in protecting the vast majority of sharks that come by New Jersey throughout the year.

Without the ability to sell the fins, the overall value of a shark plummets. The value of a shark's fins far outweighs the value of it's meat. To top it off, in New Jersey, shortfin mako and thresher are the only two species that are caught for their meat at all (not including the dogfish). So out of the many species that frequents these waters, two are actually caught for meat. The rest, for fins. Competitors of this bill claim that the outlawing of the sale of fins would cause the global value of fins to rise. The mentality of if we don't do it, someone else will was also a claim. Another claim was that this bill would place an economic burden on the state's fisheries. All of these claims I believe to be false. First off, globally, the value of shark fins is in serious question. More and more places are banning shark fin products, airlines are starting not to ship them, and even Hong Kong (Shark fin capital of the world) has banned the serving of shark fin at all government functions. In addition, hotel chains, including those in China have started to stop serving the soup as well. I find it hard to believe that a falling demand would change because New Jersey stopped selling fins.

The mentality of if we don't do it, someone else will is virtually childish. By that same logic you could say "we should rob a bank cause if we don't, someone else will!". Give me a break. This is the type of attitude that will achieve nothing. That excuse has been used time and time again throughout history by these same people. It's really a lame excuse considering how major (minor) or an issue this is. Why did I put minor in parenthesis? Well as I mentioned a claim is that this bill would put a serious burden on the commercial fishing industry in the state. This is false for two reasons. First off... 9 other states (8 of which are coastal states which rely on fishing) have passed similar bills and have felt minimal to no economic impacts as a result of these bills passing. Second of all a virtually microscopic number of the total catch for the year is made up of fins. Hardly a number to start throwing red flags at and fearing a complete commercial collapse. I mean the meat from countless other species easily outweighs fins and overall will be more valuable than the fins by the time all is said and done for the year I would think.

Really what myself and countless others are asking is for the commercial fishing industry of New Jersey to give sharks a little bit of help. Throw them a bone sort to speak. These animals are so important to that industry that they realistically should be on the front lines fighting to save them. In New Jersey, the dogfish situation is a bit different than it is in other places. Around here, there is a very large and increasing population of these animals. My belief is that the exploding population is the result of a sharply decreasing population of large sharks. Do I have issue with the dogfish exception? Right now not so much. The dogfish issue is one that should be fought when the time is right, but right now the time is right to try and cut the head off the shark fin beast in NJ. Both thresher and shortfin mako sharks are listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN's Red List with a decreasing population trend. In addition, they are the most sought after shark in the state. That is extremely alarming and should be alarming to the commercial fishermen who think they have a dogfish problem now. Sure, the meat of thresher and mako may fetch more than dogfish meat, but at the end of the day, it's the sale of the fins that really makes the catch worth it for the fishermen.

Obviously I am in full support of this bill. The bill passed the committee and will now move to the state senate. I really do feel that the exceptions that were put in place makes any hit that the commercial fishing industry would take virtually negligible. I think that this bill is designed to help cut the head off the shark fin trade in NJ and as a result help to further protect large species of shark that are in a lot of trouble right now. Will people go against the law and do it anyway? Of course they will, but at least they can be penalized for doing so. Having a federal law against shark finning is one thing. It's a law that will hardly ever actually be enforced. State laws banning shark fin trade however can be upheld and have been upheld in 9 other states.

There is no date set yet for this bill to be looked at by the state senate. When that date becomes public I will be sure to pass it along. The battle to save sharks in New Jersey is starting to heat up once again. Back in 2012 a similar bill was defeated before it even reached the senate. This time around, the bill looks more friendly to commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen. While it is not a true 100% ban on the sale of fins, it is a huge ste in the right direction. I've said all along that the dogfish issue is one that needs to be treated as a separate issue in New Jersey. While it is true that dogfish populations worldwide have declined, the opposite is true for the dogfish of New Jersey whom, along with various rays, continue to see their populations grow among a decreasing large shark population.

As always, thank you all for reading. If you would like to voice your support for this bill feel free to contact or write to New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak! You can contact him here or check out this page where you can find ore contact info. . From this blog I would like to voice a MASSIVE Thank You to Senator Lesniak for bringing this bill back to life and seeing it go to the state senate!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Desperation, Determination, and Tempers Surface in the Southern and Indian Oceans

Greetings everyone! Today I come to you all with an update on Sea Shepherd's ongoing anti poaching campaign in the Southern Ocean. Boy what a busy week it has been. So busy in fact that things were happening faster than I could find time to blog about! For the duration of this blog keep in mind where these ships are in the world. They are several hours ahead of where I am typing from so where they are it is already Sunday. This blog will be a timeline based on this timezone and not where the ships currently are located. Let's start with Monday...

On Monday, the Sea Shepherd vessel Sam Simon located two illegal toothfish poaching vessels. The two vessels that were located are two of the three that the New Zealand Navy had followed around for a bit. The Sam Simon is now in pursuit of a fleeing poaching vessel, Kunlun. The Kunlun was ordered out of the area by the Sam Simon. Rather than leave, the illegal fishing vessel turned towards and nearly rammed the conservation vessel as seen below...

The poaching vessel, Yongding, turned toward the Sam Simon, missing a collision by 10 metres. Photo: Jeff Wirth
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Back on January 13th, at the request of the New Zealand Navy, the Kunlun and two other vessels were issued Interpol Purple Notices. As of this time, the Sam Simon continues to pursue the Kunlun which has left the fishing grounds.

On Wednesday, in the Indian Ocean, things heated up between the Sea Shepherd Vessel, Bob Barker, and the illegal toothfish poaching vessel, Thunder. During the night, the Thunder was seen deploying illegal fishing gear.

Crew of the Thunder trails nets from the stern of the poaching vessel. Photo: Simon Ager

With the fishing gear deployed, the poachers again began to flee the pursuing conservationists. Rather than lose the poachers, Sea Shepherd elected to continue the chase. After running for a day, the Thunder turned and began to head back towards the nets. The ships arrived back at the nets yesterday (Friday our time, Saturday their time) where a standoff took place. After about an hour or so of blocking the Thunder's attempts at recovering the net, the Captain of the Thunder decided to put the lives of both the conservationists and his own crew on the line. The poaching vessel crossed within one meter of the conservation vessel's bow as seen in the video that will be at the end of this paragraph. Also in the video you will see the illegal fishing operation. You will also notice a shark being tossed back into the sea. Sea Shepherd believes that the reason for this was that the Thunder was not fishing for a profit this time, but rather for food. If it had been for profit, the shark would probably have been finned. Whatever the reason, it is still illegal.

That brings us to what amounts to breaking news! Just a short time ago, Sea Shepherd posted on Facebook that they had shut down the Thunder's latest attempt at illegally fishing. The Captain of the Thunder radioed the Bob Barker and stated that they were going to resume fishing activities. The Bob Barker responded by telling the Thunder that they would obstruct any attempt at illegal fishing. As the Thunder began to deploy the line, the crew of the Bob Barker tossed a grappling hook and reeled in the net and cut the line leading back to the Thunder. Once the net was retrieved the Thunder reeled in the remainder of the net and ceased fishing operations. Obviously angered by the conservationists success, the captain of the Thunder radioed the Bob Barker claiming that they were going to get their fishing gear the easy way or the hard way and that the Bob Barker had declared "War" on them.
The buoy set marks the beginning of the Thunder's gillnet. Photo: Simon AgerThe crew of the Bob Barker recovery the buoy set marks, preventing the Thunder from shooting the rest of the net. Photo: Simon Ager

Photos: Sea Shepherd (Conservationists reeling in the line from the Thunder)

The Captain of the Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt responded by saying that the net will be used as evidence against the Thunder and that the Thunder is more than welcome to follow the Bob Barker to port to retrieve the net. The Thunder chased after the faster conservation ship for two hours before stopping at which point, the Bob Barker also stopped. Latest news is that the two ships are just drifting.

So now you are all caught up on the pursuit of poachers in both the Southern and Indian Oceans. The Thunder is appearing to be more and more desperate with each passing day. Tempers are flaring and it seems that the pressure (and evidence) continues to be mounting against the poachers. Elsewhere the Sam Simon continues to pursue the  KunLun. Sea Shepherd's determination to do the job that the Government of Australia continues to fail in doing is unwavering and for that, the sea and anyone who cares about it must offer a huge thank you!!!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Australia Fails Sharks Once Again

Greetings everyone. I hope all is well with all of you. Wow February already huh? So on the eve of the Superbowl I have finally gathered my thoughts for this blog. About a week/ week and a half ago or so, news began breaking that Australia would be backing out of it's commitment to protect 5 species of shark. Back in November of 2014, Australia agreed to protect 2 species of hammerhead and 3 species of thresher shark that migrate through Australian waters. This agreement was signed at the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS). Suddenly the Australian Government had a change of heart and decided that these protections are simply not needed as the fishing of these species is already regulated.

While that is the case (Australia is one of the world leaders in conservation), it seems that this move is mostly a political one. By that I mean that this backing out is a result of fishermen pressure who like to commercially or for recreation, hunt these animals. The agreement would see those who caught the 5 species as a target or bycatch slapped with heavy fines and even jail time. So here's what I think about this apparent reservation Australia has...

I really do feel that the government of Australia has bowed not only to the recreational fishermen, but moreso the commercial fishermen. With seemingly endless and indiscriminate ways to catch mass amounts of fish at one time, the chances of bycatch is high. Long line fishing, gill nets, etc etc etc have all caught different species of shark throughout the course of history as bycatch. Under this new agreement those responsible for that bycatch would have to pay a heavy penalty if I am understanding correctly. Obviously the commercial fishermen don't want to have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars. At the same time, Australia decided to protect it's commercial fishing practices as they are now rather than revise them in order to help an international agreement to protect these 5 species of shark. Just another day in the land of Oz where more and more, the government really seems to just miss the boat sort to speak with sharks as of late...