MARINE conservation groups have urged the Philippine government to pass a comprehensive law to protect and conserve all shark species in the country even as it called the world’s nations to ensure protection of whale sharks and wedgefish, which are on the verge of being extinct.
According to the United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization, global shark population is experiencing an unprecedented decline because humans are driven by an annual trade value of $1 billion resulting in almost 100 million sharks being killed each year, with fishing rates exceeding the ability of shark populations to recover.
Sharks are vulnerable to fishing pressure because they can take decades to mature and they produce few young, and they are also targeted for their fins for use in shark fin soup, a delicacy in Asia.
While the 12th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) way taking place place in Manila on October 23-28,
conservation groups took the opportunity to call for the protection of shark species numbering more than 200 in the country.
Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines, said the country ranks fourth next to Australia, Indonesia and Japan, and is in a unique position globally when it comes to shark species biodiversity. But only a few species are protected in the country.
“To demonstrate that we are serious about our call to the global community, it is important for the Philippine government to pass a comprehensive law to protect and conserve all shark species in the country,” Cinches said.
Important to ecosystems
He added that sharks are important species in maintaining the health of the marine ecosystem, but it is threatened with illegal, unregulated, unreported and destructive fishing.
Anna Oposa, Save Philippine Seas executive director, said the Philippines has been at the frontline of protecting whale sharks for nearly two decades.
Oposa said at the COP, the Philippines is again leading the protection of the species by being the proponent for up-listing from Appendix II to Appendix I and that “we have shown the world that sharks are truly more valuable alive than dead.”
“By listing them on Appendix I, parties are urged to strictly protect them throughout their migratory range,” she added.
In 1998, whale shark was the first shark to be nationally protected through Fisheries Administrative Order 193 banning its taking or catching, selling, purchasing, possessing and exporting.
But in 2016, whale sharks were re-classed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered,” which is a step closer to “Extinction” while wedgefishes are in the “Vulnerable” status.
Commonly targeted because of their high-valued fins, wedgefishes are threatened by overexploitation, giving the white-spotted wedgefish (Rhynchobatus australiae) a “Vulnerable” status under the IUCN.
Oposa said since the species are highly mobile that makes it a shared resource, there is a need to take steps to improve the status through the cooperation among countries within its range.
According to the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines (MWWP), the Philippines has proposed the listing of wedgefish on Appendix II at the COP to strengthen the country’s efforts to conserve sharks and rays in the long-term.
Arnel Yaptinchay, MWWP executive director, said the Philippines has encouraged the parties to the CMS to support this proposal.
He added that they are looking at the CMS meeting as an opportunity to call on the Philippine government to fill in legislative gaps in the protection of shark species.
“The Philippines has over 200 shark species. They mature late, reproduce slowly and easily succumb to fishing pressures compared to their bony-fish counterparts,” Yaptinchay said.