SHARK conservationists in Fiji have hailed Palau's decision to fine and ban a ship caught fishing and finning sharks in its waters.
The Taiwanese vessel, Sheng Chi Hui No.7, was spotted by a Greenpeace helicopter in December during its Defending our Pacific expedition on the Esperanza, which escorted the ship to port with the Paulaun patrol vessel, PSS President H.I.Remeliik.
Veteran shark campaigner Manoa Rasigatale said Palau's actions to penalise poachers in its Economic Exclusive Zone showed concerns shared by other Pacific island states, including Fiji, on the vulnerable state of our oceans.
"It is a small victory for us islanders but it's only a tip of the iceberg," said Mr Rasigatale.
"Palau has done well to declare its waters a shark sanctuary and, thanks to those campaigners on the Ezperanza, it has been able to deal with one of those poachers who continue to breach and plunder our seas.
"We, here in Fiji, should work hard to safeguard our resources, especially our sharks who are killed indiscriminately for their fins and meat for the lucrative markets in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China."
A statement from the President's office in Koror, Palau, said the judgment should be seen as a deterrent to foreign fishers.
The operators of the vessel will pay a $US65,000 ($F113,795) civil fine, while the ship involved in the violation of the shark fishing law, and its captain, will both be banned from fishing in Palauan waters for one year.
"The vessel and its captain were in breach of Palauan law, and both will not be allowed to operate in our waters for one year. This payment will be used to strengthen our ability to monitor our waters for illegal fishing activity, enforce our regulations, protect our fish supplies and the health of our oceans," Palau President Johnson Toribiong said in the statement.
"The Palau government is committed to protecting the people of Palau as without fish there is no future for our people. We are grateful for the help of Greenpeace in patrolling our waters to apprehend this vessel and shining a spotlight on the impacts of illegal fishing in the Pacific."
Like most Pacific Island countries, Palau must patrol its vast oceanic territories with very limited capacity. It has one patrol boat and more than 604,000 square kilometres of ocean to patrol.
Greenpeace said it would continue to fight pirates who defied marine regulations and steal from our seas.
Shark fins are a much sought-after delicacy in China and some coastal Fijians have been known to fish sharks to satisfy the growing demand for this market.
The Ministry of Fisheries, with help from the Coral Reef Alliance and the Pew Environment Group, is working on legislation to turn Fiji's waters into a shark sanctuary.
There have been awareness campaigns from April last year and consultations with industry stakeholders.
"Until we follow the steps of Palau and other nations who safeguard sharks, we will continue to be at the mercy of people lured by the money offered by the market in China," said Mr Rasigatale.