Honduras and The Maldives join the ranks of shark sanctuaries

Posted on March 17, 2010
Written by: Shark Savers
Tags: Haischutzgebiete Projekt 

SLP_Logo_150.jpgIn the past few weeks, both Honduras and The Maldives have joined Palau in announcing a complete ban on shark fishing in their territorial waters. The ban in The Maldives was expected. One year ago, the Maldivian government announced a fishing ban for reef sharks and stated that there would be a subsequent ban on all shark fishing within their waters within 12 months. That time has now come. Many of you signed our petition to congratulate The Maldives when they announced the earlier ban.

The new shark fishing ban in Honduras, announced on January 5, 2010, was more of a surprise. It was helped along by the work of the Shark Legacy Project in Roatan, Honduras (great work, guys!). I spoke to Peter Wilcox of the Shark Legacy Project, and apparently, even they were surprised at how rapidly the government responded after a meeting that the SLP held with them. "There are some very dedicated people in both the Roatan Marine Park and DIGIPESCA (the Honduran Fisheries Department) who were already working towards establishing Marine Protected Areas in the Bay Islands. I think our meetings with them helped steel their resolve and prompted them to action", said Peter.

The Honduran ban is actually a moratorium rather than a permanent law to end shark fishing. The declaration states that the moratorium shall continue "until research has been completed that will allow a responsible management plan". National Management Plans for sharks have only been developed by a few countries and don't necessarily mean a country is truly committed to sustainability of shark populations. But, we are encouraged by this news, as it appears that at least some people in the Honduran government are showing concern for shark conservation.

The primary goal of the initial research program is to assess the health of the shark populations, but the intent appears to be to evaluate the potential for a shark diving industry. As studies on the shark diving industry in South Africa and elsewhere have proven, living sharks can be much more valuable to an economy than the short-term value of killing a shark.

The Shark Legacy Project is assisting by helping to define the value of the shark populations. As of last week, the Project has defined the value of each shark seen on the dives in Roatan as $1000 per week, or $52,000 a year, per shark. Given that sharks have life spans 20 or more years, that means that, theoretically, each shark could be worth a million dollars if allowed to live. Obviously, once shark populations revive and assuming there is a ceiling on tourism traffic, the value per shark won't be quite that high. But, it will always be many times higher than killing a shark.

There are currently laws in Honduras protecting whale sharks and nurse sharks. This moratorium will extend the ban on fishing to all shark species. Caribbean reef sharks are regularly seen in the area. Other species that occasionally appear include tiger sharks, hammerheads, and others. There is no commercial shark fishery in Honduras, but there is bycatch and shark fishing has been reported throughout the region.

Not much is currently known about the state of many of the outlying reefs in Honduran territorial waters, which is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. Even less is known about the shark populations-either the species or the population density. Giacomo Palavicini is the biologist associated with the Project who is conducting the research program for the government. He will include these outlying areas as well as the better-known areas of the Bay Islands to collect data that will help to develop the management plan.

Not to rain on this good news, but there is one point that these three countries and their shark fishing ban have in common: There is little provision for additional enforcement of these fishing bans. There are patrol boats in each of these countries, but there are not enough, especially as laws extend to more territory and species.

We are very excited that two new countries have joined Palau in announcing a total ban. We know at least a few other countries that are ripe for a similar ban, so we hope that we are seeing momentum in this direction.

Read more:
Shark Legacy Project
NY Times: Maldives Ban Fishing of Sharks