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Fiji Time: 8:05 PM on Friday 18 April

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Hub of the fin

Timoci Vula
Monday, October 17, 2011

WITH the high commercial demand for shark products, tax incentives is also said to be among the major factors strengthening shark trading in Fiji.

Angelo O'Connor Villagomez, the global shark conservation senior associate with Washington-based Pew Environment Group said Fiji had been the hub of trade for shark products, particularly shark fins a delicacy for Asian countries, particularly China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Mr Villagomez said one of the reasons was Fiji's geographical location "and that it is cheaper to fish here".

He said Fiji had also had tax incentives that had attracted companies to set up here.

"Companies are fishing for tuna but they are catching sharks as a by-catch," Mr Villagomez told The Fiji Times last night.

He said the shark population was threatened because of the high demand from Asia.

"The real problem is the demand coming from Hong Kong," he said, adding there was not much value in Fiji.

"What I don't want to happen is for Fiji to think that shark fishing is a long-term sustainable fisheries.

He said a study in 2006 found that between 26 million to 73 million sharks were killed that year.

Partnering conservationist organisation Coral Reef Alliance assistant director for conservation programs Jason Vasques said while the economical value for shark was significant, their ecological value must also be considered.

"Our role here is to raise awareness on the importance of sharks to coral reefs. Without sharks, you tend to have a less healthy reef," Mr Vasques said.

"If sharks help maintain healthy reefs, it protects the infrastructure, the coastlines and also promotes a healthy reef that will also attract tourists here," he said.

Mr Villagomez and Mr Vasques are in the country on their second visit to meet counterparts in locally-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and relevant government officials in their bid to assist local initiatives in protecting sharks in our waters.

The duo was in Fiji in February early this year.

"We want to support the government in its attempt to protect sharks," Mr Villagomez said.

He said they wanted to see Fiji become the first Melanesian country to declare its waters as a shark sanctuary, and the world's second largest sanctuary.