Cebuanos call for global protection of thresher sharks

Local government officials, coastal community representatives, environmental groups, marine scientists, resort owners, divers, and other tourism industry representatives gathered at the Cebu Provincial Capitol today to make a global call for the protection of thresher sharks. The call is being made a week before delegations from different countries meet in Johannesburg, South Africa for the 17th Conference of Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) from September 24 to October 5.

“Thresher sharks are an essential link in our way of life, especially for coastal communities like those we have around Cebu and, indeed, most of the Philippines. They bring us life and livelihood, and so they are more valuable thriving in our seas rather than slaughtered and eaten on our plates,” said Dennis Bryan Bait-it, Coordinator of Migo sa Iho (Friends of the Sharks) a local enforcement group deputized to enforce fisheries law around the Shark and Ray Sanctuary of Monad Shoal and Gato Island.

The groups are calling for the inclusion of thresher sharks in Appendix 2 of CITES, which would place the species under global protection and also means automatic protection in the Philippines as stipulated in the Amended Philippines Fisheries Code. Thresher sharks are vital not only to marine ecosystems but also to tourism in coastal communities, however its populations are currently threatened by illegal fishing, trading and bycatch.

“We are calling on the 182 parties to the Convention for a YES vote in Johannesburg. The inclusion of thresher sharks for protection under CITES is an opportunity to prevent unsustainable fishing and protect our marine tourism industry,” said Malapascua Barangay Kapitan Rex Novabos, who is also the current President of the Association of Barangay Captains in the Municipality of Daanbantayan.

The groups have also put together an online petition to gather support for the YES vote, which the public can sign at http://bit.ly/PHsayYES

According to Dr. AA Yaptinchay, Director of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, “thresher sharks are in real danger of being caught in both targeted and non-targeted fisheries as well as bycatch. It would be a global embarrassment not to support the CITES proposal for its protection, given its iconic status within the diving community in the Philippines. These sharks are clearly more valuable alive than dead.”

Monad Shoal, near the Island of Malapascua in Cebu’s Daanbantayan Municipality, is the only place in the world where thresher sharks could be viewed with certainty on a daily basis. Threshers have become the main feature of the SCUBA dive tourism industry in Malapascua, which accounts for most of Daanbantayan’s economy, securing the livelihood of many in the municipality and its neighboring communities.

“Threshers are not just fish species that bring in tourism income, but is for us a very important icon of hope that deserves global attention and protection. Their presence has turned Malapascua Island into a major dive tourist attraction, helping local residents to recover after the devastation that tropical typhoon Yolanda brought in 2013,” said Atty. Ahmad Clay Escolar, Chief of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office.

Cebu is the only province in the Philippines that bans the catching, selling, possession and trading of all shark species and its derivatives. Cebu also hosts the country’s first, and currently only, shark and ray sanctuary.

“Sharks are valuable for both their ecological and economic value, especially for an archipelago like the Philippines. We absolutely need to ensure that their population in our seas are not depleted,” said BFAR 7 Regional Director Andres Bojos, during the presentation to members of the media today.

Aside from Cebu, thresher sharks are also afforded local protection in Batangas City; Panglao, Bohol; and Palawan. Unfortunately, these are not enough, as thresher sharks could still be fished, hunted, and traded unconditionally elsewhere. Their meat is usually consumed locally but the fins are sold internationally, for use in shark fin soup.

“Sharks have long languished from misinformation and the bad reputation they received from thriller monster movies. But they are vital to marine ecosystems. Their protection under CITES also means that Threshers will automatically be protected under Section 102 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Amended Philippine Fisheries, until such time a scientific study allows it to be traded under strong monitoring and regulation,” said Vince Cinches, Philippines Oceans Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

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