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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        27 January 2011

UN shark conservation plan fails

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A UN plan to preserve the world's sharks has been a resounding failure, according to a report on Thursday blames Indonesia, India, Spain and Taiwan and 16 other major catchers of the fish.

"The fate of the world's sharks is in the hands of the Top 20 shark catchers, most of which have failed to demonstrate what, if anything, they are doing to save these imperiled species," said Glenn Sant of the British conservation group TRAFFIC.

"They need to take action to stop the decline in shark populations and help ensure that the list of species threatened by overfishing does not continue to grow."

The report, compiled jointly by TRAFFIC and the US Pew Environment Group, urges a far-reaching review next week when members of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) meet in Rome.

The January 31-February 4 gathering of the agency's Committee on Fisheries (COFI), will look at a 2001 International Plan of Action for conserving sharks, skates and rays.

The much-ballyhooed plan set down a 10-point plan for ensuring that shark catches are sustainable and bound signatories to set up a national plan and assess its implementation every four years.

Since then, massive overfishing -- especially to serve the East Asian lust for shark-fin soup -- has contributed to a plunge in shark numbers, according to the report.

As many as 73 million are killed each year and nearly a third of shark species are now threatened or near-threatened by extinction.

The report points the finger at the "Top 20" catchers, identified from data reported to the FAO, which account for more than 640,000 tons annually, or nearly 80 percent of the world total.

"Only 13 of the Top 20 have developed national plans to protect sharks... and it remains unclear how those plans have been implemented or if they have been effective," it says.

Heading the list is Indonesia, which accounts for 13 percent of global reported shark catches, followed by India (nine percent), Spain (7.3 percent) and Taiwan (5.8 percent).

Other major catchers are Argentina (4.3 percent), Mexico (4.1 percent), Pakistan (3.9 percent), the United States (3.7 percent), Japan (three percent) and Malaysia (2.9 percent).

Conservationists say that sharks, sadly demonised in movies and folk culture, play a vital role in ensuring a balanced marine environment.

The lack of a predator has a big knock-on effect down the food chain, for smaller fish are able to feast on lower organisms such as shellfish that have big commercial value.

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