In recognition of Shark Awareness Day, the Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) has announced a breakthrough agreement with unnamed fishers to protect the megamouth shark.
The cooperation agreement was signed on the evening of July 13, 2020, and formally witnessed by Fisheries Agency Director-General Chang Chih-sheng, Taiwan Ocean Conservation and Fishery Sustainability Foundation (TOFF) Chief Executive Officer Oceana Lin, and Carrefour Taiwan Foundation Executive Chief Marilyn Su.
The cooperation agreement will see all megamouth sharks caught by the anonymous operators returned to the ocean, irrespective of whether they are alive or dead at the time of catching. This will ensure that tens of the rarely-encountered sharks are returned to their natural habitat each year, and remove the financial incentive to catch megamouth sharks for their meat and fins.
The fishers have also pledged to work collaboratively with domestic and international scientists to advance research efforts for this scarcely-studied species. Where a qualified scientist is available, live megamouth sharks must be tagged before being released to the wild. In cases where a scientist or research institution wishes to purchase a specimen for research, the fishers are exempted from the condition requiring dead sharks be returned to the ocean. EAST will subsidize the fishers to support conservation work and scientific research, with the Carrefour Taiwan Foundation acting as the sponsor of the megamouth shark conservation program.
Marilyn Su said "Preserving marine ecosystems and promoting sustainable seafood are core components of Carrefour's global Food Transition initiative. It is a great pleasure to be able to partner with fisheries and NGOs to protect Taiwan's precious marine life."
To ensure transparency, the fishers have agreed to the presence of Fishery Agency observers on all voyages, and will provide photo or video records of all megamouth shark catchings, taggings, releases, and discardings. The fishers acknowledged that most megamouth sharks are still living when they are removed from fishing nets, despite all previous megamouth sharks previously entered into Taiwan's mandatory reporting system being recorded as dead.
"I am thrilled to see fisheries and conservation groups working together to promote the conservation of rare marine life and scientific research" exclaimed Chang Chih-sheng. "The protection of genetic diversity and marine biodiversity is not only the concern of conservation groups, but a key contributor to sustainable fishery development."
The innovative agreement is the most significant step yet in EAST's long-running campaign to secure the long-term survival of the megamouth shark, and comes soon after the publication of a comprehensive report that outlined key threats faced by the species.
EAST Deputy Chief Executive Yu-Min Chen welcomed the agreement, saying "EAST looks forward to working collaboratively with fishing operators on eco-tourism, sustainable seafood certification, and other initiatives to enhance marine conservation in Taiwan and protect our ocean treasures."
Taiwan is responsible for two-thirds of all megamouth shark catchings recorded worldwide, giving it a vital role in the protection of this distinctive and vulnerable species. However previous measures have failed to curb megamouth shark catchings, with 72 catchings reported in 2018-19 alone. In June of this year, six of the enigmatic sharks were caught in a four-day period off Taiwan's eastern coast.
The binding agreement applies to all megamouth sharks caught by the fishing operator in 2020. A long-term agreement between the parties will be finalized before the end of this year.
View the full text of the cooperation agreement (translated from Chinese).
Yu-Min Chen (Ms.)
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