SUVA, Fiji -- First it was turtles and now the Fijian Government is out to protect sharks.
A new landmark policy to counteract the alarming decline of sharks in Fiji is being drafted by Government.
Deaprtment of Fisheries and Forests permanent secretary Commander Viliame Naupoto confirmed that a review of Fiji's fisheries laws would include a ban on the trade of all shark fin and other products derived from any type of shark that is captured in Fiji waters.
The ban only affects trade and does not stop villagers from consuming shark meat.
Commander Naupoto clarified the proposed ban was being styled upon a ban protecting turtles.
The only variation from the turtle ban is that locals can still consume shark meat.
The policy aligns the fisheries department vision of achieving growth and ensuring food security through sustainable marine resource management as outlined by Pillar 5 of the People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress.
The pillar makes clear that the achievement of higher economic growth can be achieved through the agriculture and marine sectors but this must be carried out in a sustainable manner.
"We want to ban all trade of shark products in Fiji, in order to conserve this species," Commander Naupoto said.
"We are reviewing the fisheries management law and in it we want to incorporate the ban of all shark meat and products in Fiji, especially the trade of shark fins."
Sharks often termed the 'king of the seas' with their position at the top of the marine food chain, play a critical role within these ecosystem by controlling the population of certain marine species.
"If those animals have no predator than their increase can cause an imbalance in the marine ecosystem and can affect the middle of the food chain, which is where we get most of our livelihood from," he said.
Commander Naupoto said the emerging market in shark tourism had huge potential in Fiji, as an economic exchange earner but also in terms of providing employment to the local communities.
"Due to the emerging new trends in shark tourism in the country, sharks are more valuable to us alive than dead," he said.
Beqa Adventure Divers director and shark conservationist Mike Neumann highlighted that Beqa Adventure Divers generated about $3million in direct and indirect revenue that were all invested in Fiji.
"It has been shown that divers will prefer and pay a premium for destinations where they are likely to encounter Sharks." Mr Neumann said.
"Every single tourist coming to Fiji, does so because of Fiji's pristine marine environment, if Fiji's oceans die, the tourists will go somewhere else where the sea is not depleted.
"They have a choice – we do not, we will end up losing an industry that contributes to 55 per cent of Fiji's GDP. Conversely, if Fiji protects Sharks, it will over time have a huge competitive advantage over other island states that do not."
Neumann said globally all sharks were endangered because they mature late in life and have only few offspring, meaning that trying to restore depleted shark populations is practically impossible as it would take decades, even centuries for slow growing species.
"This legislation will be hailed worldwide and contribute substantially to enhancing the positive impression of the Government of the day," he added.
Results of the review of the fisheries law will be submitted to Cabinet.
"Our paper should go to Cabinet with the intention of protecting sharks, we have circulated the paper once and it is in to its second circulation," said Commander Naupoto.
"In the interests of the sustainable management of marine resources he hopes reviews to the fisheries laws will be approved by year end."
Fiji will be the first Melanesian country to approve such a law.
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