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How involved is Australia in the Global Shark Fin Trade?

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Marine conservationists have renewed calls for an outright ban on shark fins in Australia.

Earlier this month a Queensland recreational fisherman was fined $7,750 after being caught with 3,206 shark fins suspected of being destined for the black market.

It is believed to be Australia’s largest ever haul of illegal shark fins.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says it’s time for Australia to end its involvement in the international shark fin trade and is also calling for tougher penalties for those who illegally harvest shark fins in the country.

AMCS marine campaigner Tooni Mahto says current penalties don’t serve as a deterrent because shark fins have such a high value.

‘So the incentive is still out there for others to do the same,’ she says.

‘Shark fin soup is available on pretty much any Chinese restaurant menu. It may not be advertised on menus but the availability of shark fin soup is still there in restaurants.

‘If you go to Chinatown in Sydney and Melbourne you can see the very big shark fins with a $1,000 price tag, and you can also buy jars of smaller, cheaper shark fins for up to $700 to $800.’

The high price tag reflects the cultural value of shark fins, which have traditionally been served by the Chinese at special functions to show the wealth of the host and respect for their guests.

As the Chinese middle class has expanded, so has the demand for shark fins which has grown around 5 per cent a year since the mid-‘90s.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has determined that approximately a third of open ocean sharks are currently threatened with extinction.

Mahto says the international shark fin trade is responsible for the decline in many shark populations, especially species with large fins such as great whites and whale sharks.

‘It can be traced directly back to the shark fin trade,’ she says.

The Queensland fisherman’s crime and subsequent conviction has raised questions about the extent of illegal shark fishing in Australia. He was one of three fisherman arrested after a raid on their Maryborough fishing shack in April last year after a public tip-off about illegal mud crabs.

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol district manager Greg Bowness says the discovery of so many shark fins surprised the authorities but believes it’s an unusual case and doesn’t point to a bigger problem – but Mahto isn’t convinced.

“My feeling is that it suggests there is more activity going on that we simply don’t know about,” she says.

In the Maryborough case, authorities could not determine whether the shark fins were to be sold locally or on the overseas market, nor how the shark fins were harvested.

Live shark finning, the practice of cutting fins from live sharks and dumping their bodies, is illegal in all jurisdictions in Australia, but marine conservationists have accused Australia of being complicit in the cruel trade by allowing imports of shark fins that cannot be traced to their source.

Data for shark fin imports to Australia has only been available for the past couple of years. Australia imported 23 tonnes in 2013 and 18 tonnes in 2014.

Mahto says it’s highly likely those imports include fins harvested from live sharks.

“Shark fin can be traded from one port to another before it is imported to Australia so it’s really hard to know if we’re importing shark fin from countries like India and Indonesia that still allow live shark finning,” she says.

“If we’re importing shark fins from such countries then we’re still supporting that practice, albeit not around our own shores.”

NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi believes most shark fin imports to Australia are harvested from live sharks.

Last month Faruqi introduced a private members bill into the NSW Parliament seeking to amend the Food Act to make it an offence to possess, sell, prepare or process shark fins or any shark fin derivative.

“It would basically ban any shark fin soup being served in restaurants,” says Faruqi.

The Greens MP says there is strong community support for such a ban, but the numbers in parliament are uncertain.

“There are discussions going on about when the bill might be debated and how much support we might have, so we’re building on that and hopefully the government will come on board with majority community opinion.”

Her ultimate aim is an Australia-wide ban on shark fin imports.

“NSW can lead this action by showing that something can be done at a state level. Other states can follow, and hopefully we can push the Australian government to look into the ban of the possession, sale, and trade of shark fin in Australia,” she says.

As well as importing shark fins, Australia also exports them. Between 2011 and 2012 Australia exported 178 tonnes, but in recent years the export market has declined.

In 2013 there were no shark fin exports, and in 2014 just one tonne was exported.

The AMCS doesn’t believe the drop in exports means fewer sharks are being killed in Australian waters. The organisation suspects fins are being stockpiled until prices improve.

The recent drop in demand for shark fins is being attributed to effective public campaigns and a corruption crackdown in China.

“It does look like there has been some impact from public education campaigns using high profile figures like Hollywood actors and Chinese celebrities to change people’s behaviour,” says Mahto.

“But the Chinese government also has a big anti-corruption drive. Shark fin has been banned from being served at public political events and that seems to have had a real impact on the price of shark fins and as a knock-on effect the international trade.”

The AMCS has a long running campaign for an outright ban on shark fins in Australia. Mahto says such a ban would provide absolute certainty that Australia is not importing shark fins from countries that still allow live finning.

“That’s an important conservation outcome,” she says, “but it’s also a very public statement that Australia does not support the inhumane trade and it’s recognition that the value of sharks is in keeping ecosystems healthy rather than being served up as soup.”

 

Source: www.marineconservation.org.au

Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Mares EOS LRZ Torch Range

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What does LRZ stand for I hear you ask? The answer is: LED lights, Rechargeable, Zoomable. Mares have created a versatile set of seven underwater lights in the new range to suit all needs and budgets.

I tested the most powerful of them – the EOS 32LRZ at Capernwray on a cold but bright spring day. I was diving with Alex Mustard, and so all the underwater images are by him, showing me trying out the torch in both the shallows and in some of the wrecks at this site.

All the torches in the new line have an LED visual battery charge indicator that allows you to keep the battery level under control.

Want to use it out of the water? No problem! The new EOS LRZ torches feature an innovative temperature control system that allows you to use them both underwater and on land. I can see myself using this on gloomy dog walks later in the year!

As you can see from the video I filmed just after getting back from a dive, the torch is easy to use, even with thick gloves in cold water. The zoomable light beam means that you can highlight a particular spot, or have a wide beam, which is great for both modeling for a photographer, and exploring different underwater environments.

The EOS 32LRZ has a powerful beam with 3200 lumens of power and 135 minutes of burn time. Perfect for some of the darker dives you can experience in the UK, but also for exploring overhead or enclosed environments. I easily got 2 long dives out of a single charge, and then was able to recharge it in my car using a USB cable on the way home, ready for the next day of diving.

The look and feel of these torches are great. In your hand you can feel the quality of the torches. They are solid and well built. They also look great. Each torch in the range comes with a padded case to keep them safe during transport.

For more, visit the Mares website by clicking here.

All underwater images by Alex Mustard

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Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World launches Green Fins Japan!

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The Reef-World Foundation, the Onna Village Diving Association, the local government, and Oceana are delighted to announce that Japan is now the 14th country globally to implement the Green Fins initiative – a UN Environment Programme initiative. Onna Village in Okinawa is the first Japanese tourist destination to adopt Green Fins environmental standards to reduce the threats associated with diving and snorkelling on the marine environment.

Green Fins is piloted in Onna Village, Okinawa prefecture, an area renowned for its marine sports and has been working to protect its reefs for many years. Green Fins is implemented as part of the national Sustainable Development Goals project, which aims to manage and illustrate to the local industry how sustainable tourism can play a role in reef conservation. The economic benefits of the reefs benefit not only the fisheries industry but also the tourism industry as it has rocketed in recent decades.

If the project is successful – proving the value of sustainable tourism – the model has the potential to be escalated to a national level. A wide rollout would allow Reef-World to focus on uptake and expansion into other marine tourism and biodiversity hotspots across Japan. Green Fins implementation in Japan would provide practical solutions to many of the common problems faced in the area. It would also help to promote high standards for diving in the country. Improving the quality of the diving industry through Green Fins would demonstrate the added value of Onna Village’s tourism product. This, in turn, will encourage tourists to spend more time and money diving in the region.

Following a week of training by Reef-World (23 to 28 May 2022), Japan now has a national Green Fins team comprised of four fully certified Green Fins Assessors and two Green Fins Coordinators from Oceana and the local government. They will be responsible for recruiting, assessing, training and certifying dive and snorkel operators to become Green Fins members in the country. This involves providing training about the ecology and threats to coral reefs, simple and local everyday solutions to these threats and Green Fins’ environmental standards to dive and snorkel operators. Green Fins membership will help marine tourism operators improve their sustainability and prove they are working hard to follow environmental best practices as a way of attracting eco-minded tourists.

James Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We are really excited to finally introduce Green Fins in Japan. We have been planning this for almost three years, but the travel restrictions related to the pandemic hindered progress. The diving industry in Okinawa and the marine life upon which it has been built is so unique, it must be preserved for generations to come. The Okinawa diving community is very passionate about protecting their marine environment, and Green Fins has given them an opportunity to collectively work to reduce their environmental impact and pursue exemplary environmental standards.”

Diving and snorkelling related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, is becoming an increasingly significant issue. This damage makes them less likely to survive other local and wider stressors, such as overfishing or plastic debris and the effects of climate change. Based on robust individual assessments, the Green Fins initiative helps identify and mitigate these risks by providing environmental consultation and support to dive and snorkel operators. Through Green Fins implementation in Japan, Reef-World aims to reduce negative environmental impacts in the region by reaching 10 marine tourism operators, training 50 dive guides and raising awareness of sustainability best practices among 10,000 tourists in the first year.

Yuta Kawamoto, CEO of Oceana, said: “Green Fins will help to unify all the conservation efforts in Okinawa by applying the guidelines in many areas and raising tourists awareness. We hope this will increase the sustainable value in the diving industry and in turn increase the diving standards in the country.”

Green Fins is a UN Environment Programme initiative, internationally coordinated by The Reef-World Foundation, which aims to protect and conserve coral reefs through environmentally friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling tourism industry. Green Fins provides the only internationally recognised environmental standards for the diving and snorkelling industry and has a robust assessment system to measure compliance.

To date, four dive operators in Onna Village have joined the global network of 600+ trained and assessed Green Fins members. These are: Benthos Divers, Okinawa Diving Center, Arch Angel and Pink Marlin Club. There has also been significant interest from other operators, even those that are not located in Onna Village, for Green Fins training and assessment.

Suika Tsumita from Oceana said: “Green Fins serve as an important tool for local diving communities to move towards a more sustainable use of their dive sites; so that they can maintain their scenic beauty and biological richness to provide livelihoods for many generations to come.”

For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org or  www.greenfins.net/countries/japan. Dive and snorkel operators interested in signing up for Green Fins can find the membership application form at: www.greenfins.net/how-to-join.

Dive and snorkel operators in Japan interested in signing up to be Green Fins members can contact the Green Fins Japan team at japan@greenfins.net.

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