HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

National Plan of Action for Sharks released for comment
Global concern about the impact of fishing activities on sharks and the decline of some species is reflected in the adoption by 48 countries of National Plans of Action (NPOA-Shark), most recently in the Fiji Islands. The Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) has released a draft of its NPOA-Shark and seeking public comment to refine its measures.
Status of oceanic sharks and reef sharks in the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands Natural Heritage Database lists 23 species of sharks and rays. Many of these are reef-associated species which most Cook Islanders interact with.
Sharks are a by-catch of fishing and difficult to avoid. Oceanic species are the most common type of shark caught by artisanal fishers at the FADs or by commercial longlining and purse seiners. By sheer volume of hooks being set the commercial longline fishery is responsible for the greatest number of sharks landed.
The most commonly caught species by the longline fishery in the Cook Islands are the blue, longfin mako, oceanic white tip, pelagic thresher sharks and “unidentified species”. Based on observer data, these five categories together comprise only about 3% of the total catch weight.
The blue shark is one of the most prolific shark species. In our region the stock assessments indicate that the populations are actually increasing. The mako species are either stable or increasing. Whilst the Cook Islands are at the centre of abundance for white tip oceanic sharks, there is widespread concern in about the status of this stock.
In the northern islands, reef sharks are abundant. Anecdotal reports indicate that the population of reef sharks around Rarotonga are declining. Longline fishing is not the culprit for declining reef shark populations on Rarotonga as longliners are fishing at least 24 nautical miles (50 km) offshore and mostly in the northern waters. Instead pollution of the lagoon leading to degradation of the shark habitat and disruptions to the food chain are some of the critical issues that need to be urgently addressed. As many as 8,000 tourist dive on sites around Rarotonga and it is not known what impact these divers are having on the reef shark population.
International shark species of concern
There are several international systems used to identify sharks of concern which include the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), and the IUCN Red List.
Some species listed occur in the Cook Islands including the whale shark (CITES), the scalloped hammerhead (IUCN), the makos (CMS, IUCN) and the threshers (CMS, IUCN). While these species are of concern on a global level, the listings are based on assessments conducted in other areas. For some of these species, such as the makos and the threshers, recent data from the region around the Cook Islands indicates that the population abundance is actually increasing or stable.
International Plan of Action
The assessment required by the International Plan of Action (IPOA) developed by the United Nations has been undertaken and concludes with seven issues to be addressed by the NPOA-Sharks. These comprise: 1) measures in support of international listings of shark species of concern; 2) protection of species for which there is regional evidence of population impacts and/or high risk; 3) prevention of shark targeting and excessive bycatch; 4) encouraging full utilisation of dead or damaged sharks caught incidentally; 5) combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing of sharks; 6) eliminating data gaps on shark species composition, catches and survival rates; and 7) continuing to gather information on other human interactions with sharks.
Shark National Plan of Action –a science led policy approach
The National Plan of Action (NPOA)-Sharks is a designed in accordance with the Marine Resources Act 2005 to seek a rational approach based on scientific evidence and application of the precautionary principle. There key features of the Plan are outlined below.
There shall be strict protection of CITES-listed species. No take of whale sharks, basking sharks or great white sharks are allowed. If these sharks are observed interacting with fishing operations all reasonable steps should be taken to ensure its safe release.
In order to protect reef sharks the current prohibitions on commercial fishing within 12 nautical miles of the outer reef of any island of the Cook Islands and 24 nautical miles from Rarotonga shall be maintained.
In order to conserve species for which there is regional or local evidence of population impacts the following species shall not be retained under any circumstances. All species of rays, oceanic whitetip shark, silky shark and hammerhead sharks
In order to comply with the ban on shark finning, all sharks which can be legally retained must be retained whole with fins naturally attached to the carcass (fins may be partially cut to allow folding over the carcass).
In order to prevent targeted shark fishing, the use of shark lines and shark baits are prohibited, the use of wire trace is prohibited unless the Secretary of Marine Resources grants an exemption, and no vessel shall retain onboard more than 20 sharks per trip.
In order to operationalize these management measures, all commercial licenses shall explicitly reference, and make binding upon the licensee, the requirements contained in this NPOA-Sharks.

Herald Issue 608 21 March
- Terms of one China Policy document should be reviewed
- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

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