Friday, November 23, 2012

European Parliament Votes at Last for Stronger Shark Finning Ban

Long-fought decision was last major hurdle on path to closing EU loopholes
Strasbourg, France (November 22, 2012): The Shark Alliance welcomes the European Parliament’s vote to close loopholes in the European Union ban on shark finning, the practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea. After years of debate, 566 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favor of a report endorsing the European Commission’s proposal to require that fins be left naturally attached to all sharks that are brought to port.
“Parliament’s vote represents a major milestone in the global effort to end the wasteful practice of shark finning,” said Sandrine Polti, EU shark policy adviser for the Pew Environment Group and policy adviser for the Shark Alliance. “Our diverse coalition has been working toward this and other fundamental reforms in European shark policies for more than six years and is thrilled with today’s vote and the progress we expect to stem from it.”
The 2003 EU regulation that banned finning included an exception under which fishermen with permits can remove shark fins on board and then land them separately from the  bodies. Compliance is monitored through a complicated process of measuring and comparing the weights of the fins with the weight of the whole shark, which leaves significant room for undetected finning.
The European Parliament called for improvements in the EU finning ban in 2006 and urged the commission in 2010 to propose an end to at-sea shark fin removal. The commission’s proposal, released in November 2011, was endorsed by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament’s Environment Committee in the spring of 2012. The Parliament’s Fisheries Committee deliberations have been lengthy and at times confused, with several MEPs fighting hard to maintain loopholes.
“We congratulate the European Commission for leadership in this long effort and extend our gratitude to the 25 EU Fisheries Ministers and hundreds of MEPs who supported a stronger EU finning ban, as well as the tens of thousands of European citizens who encouraged them to do so,” Polti said.
“Shark Alliance member groups look forward to continued cooperation in shepherding and promoting a final ‘fins-attached’ rule and in securing complementary safeguards, such as domestic and international catch limits, to fully address the overexploitation of sharks.”
Martin Clark
EU Coordinator for the Shark Alliance
(+44 (0) 7880 565 393 (mobile); +44 (0) 207 254 0280 (office)

Sharkman's comment.  The Shark Alliance has been working on this campaign for over 6 years. Sharkman's World Organization has been a member of the alliance since 2007. It is great to see that finally our hard work has paid off. 

In 2007, The Shark Alliance presented over 20,000 signatures to the EU Commission asking for better regulations. 

2007 - Shark Alliance members outside EU Commission in Brussels.

2007 - Over 20,000 signatures handed over to the EU Commission.
In 2008 the Shark Alliance continues to campaign for better Shark regulations and a total stop to shark finning.
Over 100,000 signatures where again presented to the commission.

2009 the EU Fisheries Commissioner releases the "Plan of Action for Sharks". This was the first sign that the EU was listening to what the people wanted.

2009 - Shark Alliance members with EU Commissioner Joe Borg.
.In 2010, the proposal for the ending of all finning at sea was made and this was endorsed by the Council of Ministers.

In 2011, Shark Alliance members meet and propose the "Fins Naturally Attached - With No Exceptions" campaign.
2011- Shark Alliance initiate the "Fins Naturally Attached - With No Exceptions."
In Spring of 2012 Parliament’s Environment Committee endorsed the proposal but Fisheries committee had some opposition. The debates were lengthy and at times very confusing  but finally, yesterday European Parliament voted 566 to 47 in favour of ensuring that all sharks are landed fins naturally attached without exception. The amendments we supported were passed and those we opposed were soundly defeated.

Once again, the road to victory was a long and hard one, but at the end, we did it!

My thanks goes out to all my fellow members at the Shark Alliance and especially to the steering committee. To all the MEP's and Ministers that supported and voted for our sharks. To all the thousands that signed our petitions and to everyone that helped make the possible. 

God bless you all.

Shark Powered

The Sharkman.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Handover of European Shark Week Books

As part of the Shark Alliance on going campaign for shark conservation, four Maltese NGOs, (Nature Trust Malta, Greenhouse, Sharklab Malta and Sharkman's World Organization), handed over European Shark Week books to Malta's Shadow Minister, Leo Brincat, and to Fisheries Director, Joseph Caruana.

The event was held in June at St. Thomas More Primary School in Marsascala. The school children showed much interest in sharks and their conservation during the previous months and had also made an exhibition of drawings. They also made a large shark, on which everyone present at the ceremony, including Mr. Caruana, left their hand print to show support.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tributes To Ron Taylor.

This past week, the world is still mourning the sad departure of a true gentleman. All over the International media and the Internet, tributes to Ron Taylor can be found. 

Whilst reading some of the blogs, I came across two that I would like to share with you.

My friend David Diley's wrote a wonderful contribution here. It seems that David and myself share the exact feelings and we both saw Ron as our Inspiration and our Hero.  

Another good friend of mine also posted on here and here.  Mike was very close to Ron and they have dived together on many occasions. 

Thanks for sharing guys. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Farewell My Friend: Ron Taylor 9 Sept. 2012

I have just heard the sad news. I am still in disbelief. Ron Taylor has sadly passed away after a long fight with   Leukaemia. He was 78.

Ron, together with his wife Valerie, beside being world famous Underwater Film makers / photographers was also a pioneer in Shark Conservation.  The couple had both started as Champion Spear Fishing divers but soon turned to marine conservation. They became World famous for their work especially with sharks.
Who can forget the amazing images of "Blue Water, White Death."

Those that know me, know that Ron & Valerie have been my life long inspiration. I have never met them personally, but in the past years, we have been in contact via email. Ron was always cheerful, gentle and very helpful. He was also the first person that I had interviewed for my website. (See here) 

Ron, thank you for all that you have done for Sharks and for the Marine world. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with the world and with me.

Valerie, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Farewell Ron, Farewell Dear Friend. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Ray Of Light

Only 3 days ago, David Diley released his new short film "A Ray Of Light". This film deals with the conservation work being done by Brad Robertson to protect the Stingrays of Mallorca. Brad and his wife Bea do not have the backing of some huge NGO and they have to face the hard financial struggle along with the tiring hardships of dealing with bureaucracy and lack of assistance from entities that could be of great help.

As a professional Diving Instructor, Brad has loved the ocean for a long time and has been involved in various conservation projects. A few months ago, he initiated his Stingray survey after having discovered a  population of rays in the bay of Parma. This survey will hopefully lead to the conservation of these rays and the protection of the habitat.

Divers can also volunteer to assist in this project. Click here if interested.

David Diley not only filmed but also produced and edited this short documentary which he decided to do spontaneously whilst on a 3 week holiday in Mallorca. Working with only one camera, David has created a film that has already reached people in over 49 different countries.

These guys deserve all the support that you can give them, for the great work they are doing. This planet needs more people like you.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

CITES does not give a damn about endangered sharks.

In a statement released and signed by over 41 scientific marine researchers, CITES are accused of ignoring all  facts and allowing endangered species to be killed. 

Dead sharks at the fish market.

The full letter reads:

'The shark fin trade is not sustainable'

As professional marine scientists who have personally witnessed and documented the dramatic declines of shark populations around the world, we would like to express our concern about the recent misinformation perpetuated in the media, both Asian and international, asserting that the shark fin trade is sustainable.

The reality is that this vast trade is largely unmanaged and unmonitored, and that the shark fin industry in Asia plays little to no role in fisheries management in the countries that are fishing sharks. The slow growth and reproductive rates of sharks makes them extremely susceptible to overexploitation.

Since only a small fraction of shark-fishing nations have any type of shark management plan in place, the assertion that the fin trade is sustainable is not based in fact.

Despite recent claims to the contrary by the Hong Kong-based Sustainable Marine Resources Committee of the Marine Products Association (MPA), there is a wealth of scientific evidence that populations of many shark species are in decline, with the shark fin trade being an important driver. There is a solid scientific consensus that many sharks and indeed other cartilaginous fishes, such as skates and rays, are in severe trouble, and there is emerging evidence that this could be causing wider disruptions in ocean ecosystems.

We the undersigned believe, in the interests of both the global marine environment and the public that depends on healthy ocean ecosystems, that decision makers should be apprised of the full facts of the shark fin issue, most specifically that:

- The shark fin trade, as it currently stands, is NOT sustainable. Peer-reviewed scientific research has shown that the fins of tens of millions of sharks passed through the shark fin trade in 2000. Since then there has been no accurate estimation of the trade volume and corresponding number of sharks killed, making it impossible for the industry to state that the trade is sustainable.

Declines in shark populations have been reported from many locations worldwide, and many areas like the Caribbean, for example, are heavily impacted. Individual populations, such as oceanic whitetip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and hammerheads in the Mediterranean, have experienced severe declines. These statistics are not mere speculation but are backed up by published analyses in academic journals.

- Shark fins are by far the most valuable part of the shark, which encourages many fisheries to target them or retain them even when they are caught incidentally, rather than releasing them alive. The shark fin trade should therefore be viewed as a major driver of global shark fishing activities, which are often unmanaged and conducted in an unsustainable manner.

- The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) does not adequately protect endangered shark species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 82 species of sharks on its Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Yet, CITES regulates trade of just three of these threatened shark species.

Despite meeting the scientific criteria for listing, numerous shark species have been denied CITES protection because politics prevented them from receiving the two-thirds of the votes necessary for a CITES listing. A larger number of species are considered threatened and are therefore prohibited in particular countries or by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.

CITES tends to lag behind domestic and regional management bodies because of the two-thirds majority requirement and should not therefore be used as the benchmark for whether a species is under threat.

In short, the overwhelming body of scientific data supports the urgent need to focus on adequate conservation and management strategies rather than maintaining unsustainable levels of fishing.

Given that sharks play an important role in maintaining the delicate balance of the world's marine ecosystems, and that many species of sharks are now threatened or near threatened with extinction, there is a rare opportunity to make a significant impact on an issue of global importance by helping to regulate the burgeoning international trade in shark fins.

The letter was undersigned by the following 41 researchers:

Dr Gregor Cailllet; Director Emeritus, Pacific Shark Research Centre; Professor Emeritus, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, US

Dr Jeffrey C Carrier, PhD; Professor Emeritus of Biology - Albion College; American Elasmobranch Society - Past-President; Adjunct Research Scientist - Mote Marine Laboratory, US

Dr Demian D F Chapman; Assistant Professor, School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Stony Brook University, US

Dr William Cheung; Assistant Professor, Fisheries Centre, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Dr Philippe Cury; IRD Senior Scientist; Director Centre de Recherche Halieutique Mediterraneenne et Tropicale Sete, France

Dr Toby S Daly-Engel; Assistant Professor of Marine Biology; University of West Florida, US

Dr Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, PhD; President, Tethys Research Institute, Milano, Italy

Dr Michael L Domeier; President Marine Conservation Science Institute, US

Dr E Esat Atikkan, PhD; Adj Prof, Biology, Adj Prof, Physical Education, Montgomery College, US

Dr Kevin Feldheim, PhD; A Watson Armour III Manager of the Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution; Field Museum of Natural History, USA

Dr Francesco Ferretti, PhD; Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, US

Dr Andrew B Gill; Senior Lecturer, Environmental Science and Technology Department, Cranfield University, UK

Dr Eileen D Grogan, PhD; Professor of Biology; Research Associate: Carnegie Museum The Academy of Natural Sciences, US

Dr Samuel H Gruber; Director, Bimini Biological Field Station, South Bimini, Bahamas; Founder IUCN Shark Specialist Group; Founder American Elasmobranch Society; Professor Emeritus University of Miami, US

Dr George J Guillen, PhD; Executive Director and Associate Professor Environmental Science and Biology, Environmental Institute of Houston, University of Houston, US

Dr Richard L Haedrich; Professor emeritus, Memorial University, St John's, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada

Dr Neil Hammerschlag; Research Assistant Professor, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy; Director, R J Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, University of Miami, US

Dr Michael Heithaus; Director, School of Environment, Arts and Society, Florida International University, US

Dr Mauricio Hoyos Padilla; Pelagios-Kakunja A C La Paz, BCS, Mexico

Dr Robert Hueter; Director, Center for Shark Research; Associate Vice President for Research, Directorate of Marine Biology and Conservation, Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida, US

Dr Charlie Huveneers; Lecturer and Research Scientist, Flinders University/SARDI - Aquatic Sciences Adelaide, Australia

Dr Salvador Jorgensen; Research scientist; Chief Scientist, White Shark Research Initiative, Monterey Bay Aquarium, US

Dr Stephen M Kajiura; Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, US

Dr Steven Kessel; Post-Doctoral Fellow, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Vivian Lam; IUCN Shark Specialist Group, US

Dr Agnes Le Port; Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences The University of Auckland, New Zealand

Dr Richard Lund; Research Associate, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

Dr John W Mandelman; Research Scientist, John H Prescott Marine Laboratory, New England Aquarium, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Dr Mikki McComb-Kobza; Postdoctoral Researcher, Ocean Exploration and Deep-Sea Research, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, US

Dr John E McCosker; Chair of Aquatic Biology, California Academy of Sciences, US

Dr Henry F Mollet; Research Affiliate MLML, R&D Volunteer Husbandry Division, Monterey Bay Aquarium, US

Dr Elliott A Norse; President, Marine Conservation Institute, 2122 112th Avenue NE, US

Dr Jill A Olin; Post-Doctoral Fellow, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Dr Daniel Pauly, Professor of Fisheries, Fisheries Centre, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Prof Ellen K Pikitch, PhD; Executive Director, Institute for Ocean Conservation, Science School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, US

Dr Yvonne Sadovy; Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Dr Carl Safina; Blue Ocean Institute, US

Dr Bernard Seret; Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement (IRD), Museum national d'Histoire naturelle, Departement Systematique et Evolution, France

Dr John Stevens; Research Fellow, CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Dr Tracey Sutton; Department of Fisheries Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William & Mary, US

Dr Boris Worm; Associate Professor, Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Canada

We all know why CITES ignores the facts. It is because of people like Dr. Giam Choo Hoo who sits on it's committee and has conflicts of interests. Dr. Giam is heavily involved in the shark fin trade and has openly admitted that sharks do not need protection.
During a debate held in Singapore, last February, Dr. Giam based his claims on half truths and selective data, not on the general facts.
Shark Savers, on the other hand, provided all the scientific facts to debunk his claim. Please read here.

In my opinion, it is high time that:
1) CITES wakes up and replaces people with personal agendas.
2) Governmental Organisations should base their decisions only on scientific data. 
3) Each Country should decide for itself, which species should be protected based on scientific data and local observations.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Getting a second chance.

Ever since I have been involved in Sharks and their conservation, I have had the pleasure of meeting some great guys who have devoted their time and energy to do all they can to protect these awesome creatures without thinking about self gratification. Greg Nowell is one of these special people.

Regretfully many people get involved with sharks (or any other creature) for personal gain and to get in the spotlight. Greg is the total opposite. He loves sharks as much as I do and ever since I met him some 5 years ago, he has been in the fore front of shark conservation issues here in Malta and overseas as well.

Greg Nowell is the founder and director of Sharklab Malta, and with Sharkman's World Organization, we are constantly working together on various issues. Greg and his team of Sharklab members are more focused on data collection of shark and rays info collected from local fisheries and of sightings and observations.

Recently, their work took a slightly different path and they are getting their first experience in their own private shark nursery.

Around the end of January, a local fisherman contacted Greg and told him of an unusual find of some strange egg cases at "Qalet Marku" a local rocky coastline. Greg rushed to the spot to find a total of 43 shark egg cases. On inspecting them, Greg found that most of these cases were either empty or badly damaged. Only 9 seemed to be still alive and developing.

Greg took these cases home and placed them in a sea water aquarium he immediately set up. Greg identified the egg as those of The Smallerspotted Catsharks (Scyliorhinus canicula).
Smallerspotted Catsharks (Scyliorhinus canicula). 
4 of the cases died over the next few days. Greg then gave 3 of the cases to fellow Sharklab member Pam Mason. Whilst Greg's eggs were in a 20 degrees heated aquarium, Pam kept hers in a cooler non heated 17 degrees. they started observing the egg cases constantly and exchanging notes. Greg's warmer sharks were noticed to be more active.

Two weeks ago, the first of Greg's sharks hatched and the second followed within a couple of days. The warmer water produced more active sharks. A few days later Pam's pups hatched.

The sharks are now actively feeding on Brine shrimp and raw white fish. The idea is that as soon as these little guys are fit enough, they will be released back into the sea and given a second chance.

Yesterday Greg's nursery had more arrivals. A local diving centre owner found a huge mass of tangled nylon rope in the sea, and on close inspection egg cases were visible.
Shark Egg Pouches entangled in ropes

Greg recovered an astonishing 89 egg cases. Out of these, 13 were found to be still alive and were immediately transferred into the aquarium. Also inside the aquarium, Greg has two huge Nursehound Egg pouches too.

13 Catshark egg cases and the 2 larger white Nursehound

More photos, videos and updates can be found here.

Hopefully these sharks will all live to get a second chance, thanks to Greg and his team of dedicated members at Sharklab Malta.

Keep up the great work guys.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New shark discovery off the Galapagos reported

During a time when sharks are being driven towards extinction, this is amazing news.

New shark discovery off the Galapagos reported
David Perlman Wednesday, March 7, 2012
California Academy of Sciences
Bythaelurus giddingsi

The new shark species lives at the bottom of the ocean. In the seas of the world where sharks of all kinds are fast disappearing, a deep-diving San Francisco biologist and his colleagues have discovered a new species of shark among the Galapagos Islands.
With its razor-sharp teeth, the shark is well equipped for its role at the top of the ocean's food web, said John McCosker, the chief of aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences who led the discovery. But it's not much like the feared great white: This one is a modest-size bottom-feeder. McCosker, together with Carole C. Baldwin, curator of fishes at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, and Douglas J. Long, a shark specialist at the Oakland Museum, reported on the new species in the latest issue of Zootaxa, an international journal published in New Zealand.
Life on the bottom
The shark is a member of the catshark tribe, a bottom-dwelling sluggish group of fishes with small teeth that are found all over the world, McCosker said. The team has named the new species Bythaelurus giddingsi.

"The closest living relative of this species would be the swellshark, a shallow-water coastal species seen by scuba divers in California," McCosker said. "They spend their life on the bottom and probably feed on other fishes and invertebrates.

"Their teeth are small and sharp and evolved to grasp their prey before engulfing it."

McCosker and Baldwin collected seven small to moderate-size samples of the new shark while diving inside the submersible called the Johnson Sea-Link during an expedition to the Galapagos Islands in 1998 - a long time ago, it may seem.
7 sharks captured

But in the slow-moving ways of animal identification and naming - a science known as taxonomy - the team's detailed description of the new shark species has just been reported. The seven sharks ranged in length from 9 to 18 inches, and were all sexually immature. As McCosker and Baldwin syphoned them aboard the submersible, several sharks swam past appearing much larger and more mature, "either too fast or too large to be collected," McCosker said. 
Meticulously analyzed

To determine that the sharks were in fact members of a new species, the scientists carefully measured them, dissected them, analyzed them and described each organ. All seven are now preserved for other scientists at the academy in Golden Gate Park.

Roughly 375 species of sharks exist in the world's oceans, and a new one may not seem all that important, but every shark species around the world is being heavily overfished - primarily to harvest their fins for shark fin soup, a major Asian delicacy. The result, McCosker noted, is a worldwide decline in shark populations.

"Sharks are the top predators of the ocean, and if any one of them goes extinct it can cause the loss of an entire ocean food web, which is why I want to save those primary predators," McCosker said. 
Named after a hero

The scientists named the new species for Al Giddings, a retired San Francisco underwater filmmaker who was with McCosker and Baldwin in the Galapagos directing an Imax film for the Smithsonian Institution at the time of the discovery.

Giddings, 74 and a veteran diver now living in Montana, rescued a companion who was badly bitten by a great white shark off the Farallones 40 years ago by diving into the blood-covered water, pulling the injured victim away from the beast's teeth, and towing him to the fishing boat where companions lifted him aboard. The companion survived.

David Perlman is The San Francisco Chronicle science editor.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Tide is Turning

I have always been an optimist in my life. After yesterday's blog, I feel I must also post a positive note.

A lot has happened since I first got involved in the shark finning issue way back in the early 90's. I remember one of our first victories was when we convinced Singapore Airlines to stop serving Shark Fin Soup. Some months later it was the turn of  Thai Airways to oblige. Progress was slow but we were getting to the people.

Things took a huge boost forward when together, the Internet based Shark Group and the Let Sharks Live Network, we declared "2009 the International Year Of The Shark". A total of 68 World wide Organizations, Groups and Clubs joined forces in this project.

The following excellent video produced by Bloom and the Hong Kong Shark Foundation shows exactly how the Tide is Turning. 

Yes the tide is turning and we can all play a major part in it. Say NO to Shark Fin Soup and spread the word.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How many Sharks?

This new video has hit the net. It shows a street in Hong Kong  covered with shark fins. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I had seen this street before. A quick search revealed that I was right. In 2010, Alex Hofford filmed the same street.That video can be seen here.

Fins drying up on a Hong Kong Street. Photo by Alex Hofford.
I am not trying to minimise the importance or the impact of what Gary Stokes has filmed. In fact, it is important that these issues keep coming to light, and the public made aware of them.

When ever something like this makes its way to the media, the question that comes to mind is; How many sharks were killed? It is simply impossible to answer. Whether it is hundreds, thousands or millions we will never know. How can one calculate the numbers?

I tried to do a little experiment with a photo taken from the video released by the  Pew Environment Group shown below.

This is a single shark fin fishery in Taiwan. Taiwan ranks as the 4th largest Shark fin trader in the World.

Shark Fins drying up on a roof in Taiwan.
In this photo I counted 176 "trays" of shark fins. Some contain around 20 fins, others as much as 50 or more. I will play it safe and say that each contains 20 fins. That means that here we have over 3,520 fins. If the fins are left out to dry for a week and replaced, than the total of fins in a year will be over 183,000

Lets imagine that in all of Taiwan there are only 25 traders. This would give a total of 4,576000 per year. Considering the fact that Taiwan is only the 4th largest, than Indonesia, India and Spain are catching much more, but for the sake of my argument... lets say they are all equal. 18,304,000 shark fins in one year!!

What about all the other fleets? Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Costa Rican, South African....... etc.... What are the global figures? No one will ever know the truth. Part of that is because a lot of these catches are illegal and do not get reported to fisheries authorities. 

Now before I get bombarded, keep in mind that my numbers are just guess work and they are just estimates based on one photo and a little info. There is nothing scientific about my totals. My only aim is to show the vast numbers of sharks that are being killed just for soup. Be it 15, 32, 73 or 100 Million makes not much of a difference when a plate of soup is driving sharks to extinction. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

EU start discussing Commission's proposal to close Shark Finning Loopholes

The European Parliament’s work on the Commission’s proposal to close the loopholes in the EU finning ban has begun in earnest. Here is an update from this week's news that has also just been posted to

Fisheries and Environment Committees Consider European Commission Proposal

1 March 2012
BRUSSELS: Shark Alliance representatives were on hand this week as the European Parliament Fisheries Committee considered and debated for the first time the European Commission’s proposal to close major loopholes in the EU ban on shark finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea). The Commission has proposed ending special permits that allow fishermen to cut off shark fins at sea and land them separately from the bodies, under a derogation to the overall EU requirement for landing sharks with their fins still naturally attached. Portugal and Spain are the only EU Member States still issuing these special permits, a fact that was clearly reflected in the afternoon’s debate.

Maria do Céu Patrão Neves Member of European Parliament (MEP) from Portugal started the discussion in her role as Committee Rapporteur. Despite insisting that she had an open mind on the matter and was listening to all sides, all of Patrão Neves’ arguments were based on those offered by the Portuguese and Spanish long-distance freezer vessels, which make up the EU’s largest shark fishing fleet. With little supporting documentation or specifics, she cited concerns about economic hardship, safety, hygiene, and storage to argue against the proposed “fins naturally attached” policy, and called instead for delay of the regulation and compromise measures. She questioned the Commission on why they were moving forward with the proposal, apparently forgetting that she was among the 423 MEPs to sign in 2010 a Written Declaration urging the Commission to propose a complete ban on removing shark fins on board vessels. Patrão Neves was vigorously supported by MEP Carmen Fraga from Spain, who argued, also without specific figures, against imposing this “costly measure” that would have “major repercussions” in the future.

MEPs Struan Stevenson (UK), Vice Chair of the Committee, Raül Romeva i Rueda (Spain), Chris Davies (UK), and a designee for Kriton Arsenis (Greece) argued adeptly in favor of the Commission’s proposal, casting great doubt on industry’s arguments based on examples from other countries, while highlighting the great number of vessels with special permits, the biological vulnerability of sharks, and the need for the EU to lead rather than lag behind a growing number of countries effectively imposing fins-attached policies.
A representative from the European Commission reviewed the loopholes associated with the current regulation, stressed that there were practical solutions to all concerns raised, as detailed in the Impact Assessment, set the record straight regarding the number of special permits (approximately 200), and refuted the assertion that their proposal, which has been years in the making, was “hasty”. Patrão Neves, however, was “extremely disappointed” with his response, asserted that MEPs were there to “defend the fishing industry of Europe”, and reiterated her opposition to the proposal.
Earlier in the day, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee discussed the same issue, beginning with a draft opinion report from MEP Andrea Zanoni from Italy that strongly supported the Commission’s proposal. Zanoni’s report then received enthusiastic endorsements from all MEPs taking the floor, including MEPs Daciana Sârbu (Romania), Sandrine Bélier (France), Martin Callanan on behalf of Julie Girling (UK), and Chris Davies (UK).
The process to amend the EU finning ban will continue to heat up throughout the spring. In the coming weeks, Maria do Céu Patrão Neves is expected to release her working document with a proposed compromise for consideration by the Fisheries Committee. Her draft report as well as an informal document reflecting the views of the European Council of Fisheries Ministers should become public in mid-March. Stay tuned to the Shark Alliance website for updates on this critical process and ways that you can help us achieve a strong and enforceable EU shark finning ban. 

Great Whites No Cage: A Reporter's View.

CNN Reporter Anderson Cooper joins South African Michael Rutzen and dives unprotected with great white sharks. An interesting encounter from the point of view of a reporter. Awesome photography that brings back many memories of my trips with Mike at Dyer Island.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

They Did It Again.

I cannot let this one pass without commenting on it. People who work hard to protect nature and promote it's conservation should be praised.

Our dear friends at BEQA ADVENTURE DIVERS have done it again. Within a space of just three weeks, they have been presented with another award! This time it's for Tourism Sustainability at the AON Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards.

Just 20 days ago, B.A.D. were awarded the Best in Green Economic Development at the Kutoa Community Impact Awards 2012

For those that are not aware of it, B.A.D. is not just another Scuba diving centre. They are much more than that. As I had said in an earlier post, these guys have been working hard at conservation since before the company was actually formed.  The company was set up in 2004 and a few months later they established the Shark Reef Marine Reserve. The first objective of the Fiji Shark Project set up in 2003 was thus achieved. 

The funds collected from the daily dives at Shark Reef is donated to two villages thus helping in their education and economy.

Beqa Adventure Divers also carry out scientific research programmes such as Shark Tagging and Reef Habitat Conservation. They have also sponsored the training of local villagers as Fish Wardens and Snorkelling Guides. In 2009 they developed a Shark Awareness Presentation as part of the Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project, B.A.D.s contribution to the International Year of the Shark. In 2011, they started on the Mangroves for Fiji Project and they have already planted over 39 hectares or 390,000 Mangrove trees!! To kick off 2012, Beqa Adventure Divers are already spear-heading the first ever Fiji Shark Count.

B.A.D's Achievement highlights can be seen here.

Congratulations my friends. The planet needs more B.A.D. people like you.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Megamouth Shark

It was nearly 36 years ago that the first recorded specimen of a very strange Shark was discovered. This accidental discovery was  not done by a fishing vessel but by a U.S. Navy Ship!

On the 15th of November 1976, a U.S. Navy Ship had orders to search and recover lost "Dummy" Torpedoes. They were approx. 25 miles off the coast Oahu, Hawaii where their chute like drift anchor was being towed. Suddenly something huge caused it to drag down. On reeling it up back to the ship, the crew were amazed to find a huge fish, entangled in a deep-water net.

With a mouth measuring 1 metre wide at the tip of a 4.5 metres long brownish coloured flabby body, it was soon realised that nobody had ever seen this species before!! It took about 7 years before this species was identified and named as Megachasma pelagios, or as it is better known, the Megamouth Shark. That specimen can still be seen on display at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Eight years had to pass before another specimen was captured and this happened in California. Since then, a total 53 Megamouths have been recorded. The majority of these sharks ended up either consumed or dumped. About 15 specimens are on display in various museums around the World. Only 6 Megamouths were released alive. 2 of the records are reports of sharks that were sighted. Most of the captures, 14, have occurred in Japan.

Megamouth locations

Forming part of the Order of Lamniformes, The Megamouth is a filter feeder like the Basking  and Whale Sharks. This species is wide-ranging with captures and sightings reported from the Indian, the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Quite a few of the recorded sizes exceed 5m in length with the largest being 5.7m (approx.18 feet). A Megamouth sighted off Dana Point, California, was estimated to be between 6.1m to 7.6m., but this cannot be taken as an exact measure. The smallest one was found washed ashore on a beach in Indonesia and it was a 1.77m juvenile male.

Dana point was also the location of Megamouth # 6, which was tagged and released. This shark was tracked for two days and whilst during the day it dove down to a depth of 150m, at dusk it would rise to 15m.
Megamouth # 6 tagged and released.
Along with Dr. Henry F. Mollet, I have been keeping records of every Megamouth captured or sighted. We know that there could be others that do not get reported. Details and photos of all 53 specimens can be found on my website at Sharkman's World Organization.

The Great Fiji Shark Count

During the month of April. those of you that are in, or find your way to, Fiji, are invited to participate in the first ever GREAT FIJI SHARK COUNT. Whether you are a Tourist or a Local, Snorkler or Diver,  you can be part of this nation wide research project and assist in collecting valuable data about Fiji's underwater biodiversity.

The aim of this project is to collect data about Sharks, Rays and Turtles from all over Fiji. This will provide valuable information about the distribution and abundance of these species. The results will also help in designing better ways to protect Sharks. Being the first survey of its kind, this will also be the Baseline for future surveys.

Participating is very easy. Ask any of the Dive Operators or Holiday Resorts to see if they are participating. You can also contact the Organizers directly. Register your participation on their website at The Great Fiji Shark Count. Survey materials and posters are already available on the site for viewing.

The Organizers are:
Fiji Department of Fisheries and Forests
Marine Ecology Consulting
Shark Reef Marine Reserve
Save Our Seas Foundation
The Shark Foundation
Shark Savers
Ocean Soaps

So, for those of you still planing a diving holiday, Fiji is one of the best diving destinations in the World. I can guarantee that the dives you make there will rank among the best you ever make. So why not take this opportunity and take a well deserved holiday whilst helping to save our Sharks.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Philippines Senator proposes total Shark protection.

Philippines Sen. Loren Legarda  yesterday called for the passage of a proposed measure prohibiting the catching of sharks, saying the absence of such law could lead to the extinction of the species. Currently there are no laws that protect sharks in the Philippines and fishermen are regularly engaged in the barbaric act of shark finning.

The practice of shark finning involves the removal of the fins, mostly whilst the sharks are still alive, and  the finless shark is thrown back into the sea to die a slow and painful death. The fins are then used for Shark Fin Soup.

“Clearly, the absence of a law forbidding the catching of sharks gives people the courage to continue the practice, which could eventually lead to the extinction of shark species in the country, especially that they reproduce slowly,” Legarda said. “Sharks, as predators of the sea, play a vital role in regulating the ecological balance, particularly the health of important commercial fish species, population balance, and protection of coral reefs. Being a country with about two-thirds of the known marine species of the Pacific living in its coastal waters, the Philippines plays a crucial role in protecting marine species,”

The Senator also stated the facts that millions of sharks are killed every year and that some shark populations have declined by as much as 90 percent.

Legarda said this concern could be addressed with the enactment into law of Senate Bill 2616, which seeks to banning the catching, sale, purchase, possession, transportation, importation and export of all sharks and rays or any parts of these animals. The bill also proposes to declare unlawful the wounding or killing of sharks and rays, unless there is threat to human life or safety.Shark fin soup and the selling of shark’s fin will also be prohibited to eliminate the demand that results in the massive killing of sharks.

Sharkman interviews Lill Haugen

She is Norway's #1 Underwater photographer and one of the best in the World. She is a Shark lover, Researcher and Conservationist. She is my Friend... the charismatic Lill Haugen.

Read about the interview I did with her on my website at SHARKMAN'S WORLD

Saturday, February 18, 2012

4 Species or more.

I love Scuba diving. I have done it since I was 8 years old. I enjoy every single dive, no matter what the objective or the location is. Being underwater and surrounded by such diverse marine life is for me the best place to be.

Over the years, I have had hundreds of memorable dives. My dives became more special to me when ever I encounter the odd Shark or two. Up until 2009, coming face to face with the Great White Sharks in South Africa had been the highlight of my life. I never imagined that this awesome experience could be beaten. I was so very wrong.

As part of the “2009 – International Year Of The Shark” campaign, I was invited by Beqa Adventure Divers to go to Fiji and take part in the Fiji Shark Conservation & Awareness Project. I was to join them for diving and observing sharks at the Shark Reef Marine Reserve at Beqa Lagoon and also to give a few interviews to the media.

It took me about 40 hours to travel half way round the world, from Malta to Fiji (via London and Los Angeles). A total distance of over 19,800 km (12,300 miles).

Beqa Adventure Divers are located at the Lagoon Resort in Pacific Harbour. It is a very quiet area on the banks of one of the many mangroves. This is the exact location were the movie Anacondas was filmed in 2003. In fact, the boat used in the film, the “Bloody Mary” can still be seen behind the diving centre.

B.A.D. was set up in 2004, and that same year they established the Shark Reef Marine Reserve . The entire reef and all it's inhabitants are totally protected. Divers wishing to dive at this reef have to pay a small fee. The money collected is than given to the two villages that own the “rights” to the reef.

On arriving at the base, I met Mike, who is one on the owners. Although we had known about each other for quite some time, we had only been in contact for a few months during the 2009 campaign. He than introduced me to his business partner Andrew and the rest of the team.

Since I had been out of the water for a few months, and the fact that it was the first time in Fiji, the first 2 dives I did the following morning were easy “test” dives on one of the house reefs. The second I dived in, I was surrounded by a magical world so full of life. Hundreds of different fish, of all shapes and colours live on these reefs and for the first couple of minutes I just stood there watching them, before moving on to explore the reef. On both of these 2 dives I saw a Whitetip Reef Shark. The start could not have been better.
Whitetip Reef Shark

The next morning, we all set out for the famous Shark Dive at the Marine Reserve. On the way out to the reef, Manasa, one of the two main shark feeders, who is affectionately known as “Papa”, gave a full briefing of the dive and explained all the do's and don'ts. B.A.D. is very strict on both Diver and Shark safety. Besides Mike and the 2 feeders, there were also 6 other safety divers and 8 guests.

The minute we arrived and the boat was anchored, one of the crew threw a piece of bait into the water and suddenly to everyone's surprise the sea erupted!! Papa saw the looks on some of the guests faces and smilingly assured everyone that it was only a shoal of giant Trevallies attacking the bait.

As soon as we dived in, we went down along the reef wall to a 30m shelf where we were instructed to kneel down. 3 safety divers stayed with us. On the way down, I had already spotted a few Whitetips and also Blacktips. Directly in front of the shelf at a depth of about 33m is the “Arena”. This is the place where Rusi does all the shark feeding.

When everyone was settled, Rusi took out the first piece of bait and the Grey Reef Sharks started to come in. Soon we were surrounded by some 20 sharks, all coming in one at a time to take the bait out of Rusi's hand. These sharks are “trained” to come in from the left side, take the bait and keep moving to the right. The sharks seemed so relaxed even when they passed very close to us.

After about 15 minutes the feeding here stopped and we went up slowly to 15m were a few more sharks were fed. It was here that the Bull Sharks arrived. These sharks are much heavier set than the slim reef sharks, and there is something about them that “demands” respect. Even thought they seemed very quiet, one can still sense the “power” they possess.

From there we would move up to the 4m area at the top of the reef. Here Papa would be feeding the large numbers of Blacktips and Whitetips. These sharks would come in and zig zag between the divers. The divers are warned not to touch the sharks but it happens quite a few times that the sharks brush fractionally against us.

"Papa" Manasa and Sharkman
As soon as we surfaced, the crew were there to help with the equipment and also change our cylinders. I also welcomed to nice hot coffee they offered me.

The second dive of the day was at a depth of 15m and its the Bull Shark dive. Between 20 to 40 sharks would be coming in for Rusi's hand outs... mostly Tuna heads. I was snapping away with my camera and trying to note special markings and sexes of the sharks. Later on, I would talk with Mike about the sharks and he would tell me “who” they are. He has photo I.D's of most of the sharks, including over 120 Bulls.

From the second day onwards, I would dive with Mike and stay at the edge of the feeding area or in the “Pit”. These are the best spots to be in for good photography. The Pit is normally occupied by some world famous photographer who happens to be visiting. In fact, during my time there I had the pleasure to meet and dive with Klaus Jost and Lill Haugen.

A few days after my arrival, Gary Adkison also showed up. Gary is running the Bull Shark tagging programme at the Marine Reserve. It was great to work with him as well. What I found really amazing was the fact that even though the 3 of us have totally different characters, Gary, Mike and myself totally clicked. We have shared not only awesome dives together, but also great conversations and dinners..... plus Kava and Maltese Anisette too. We have bonded even more than brothers.

The entire team at Beqa Adventure Divers were just fantastic and very professional. I have made many new friends. One my last night with them, they surprised me with a farewell dinner. Thank you.

At Shark Reef, one can see up to a maximum of 9 different shark species on just one dive. During my 3 weeks there I did 24 dives at the reef and I never had less than 4 species. Blacktips, Whitetips, Grey Reefs and Bull sharks. On many dives, a Tawny Nurse would show up as well. On one dive we also had one Silvertip making a quick brief appearance. 6 out of 9 ain't bad at all. I do not know of any other shark spot with so many different species on a single dive.

Diving legends Ron & Valerie Taylor have labelled this as “The Best Shark Dive In The World.” Now I understand why and I totally agree.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sharkman's World is Back

Following an absence of nearly two years, Sharkman's World is back on line on a new and stronger server.
The new url is now

The site will feature all the all the old favourite topics and to kick it all off, There is an interview with the pioneer of Shark Diving Trips and also President of the U.S. Shark Foundation, GARY ADKISON