FIJI Tuna Boat Owners Association director Russell Dunham says tuna boat operators have no interest in catching sharks and fully support a ban on the shark fin trade.
He made the comments in defence of allegations from shark conservationists that tuna boat operators were still involved in the catching of sharks for their fins, whether deliberately or not.
Sharks are being caught for their fins by tuna boats, sometimes deliberately or as by-catch, and by coastal anglers and then sent to China through Hong Kong for its lucrative fin trade.
Organised by the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests in Suva, the consultation was held to get public and stakeholder feedback on proposed legislation to turn Fiji's 1.2million-square-kilometre Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) into a shark sanctuary.
Researcher Helen Sykes, who has been leading the conservation campaign, said a total ban on shark fishing would ensure their protection and safeguard the marine ecosystem.
Mr Dunham said making Fiji's EEZ a shark sanctuary was unnecessary and suggested shark sanctuaries be identified instead of a national ban on shark fishing.
While he agreed sharks were crucial in the balance of the marine ecosystem, he denied association members specifically targeted sharks and highlighted the lack of control of inshore fishermen who, he said, were exploiting marine stocks, including coastal sharks. "We will catch sharks, whether we like it or not. Do not blame long line fishermen for the decline in sharks, just control inshore fishing."
Shark advocates, scientists, conservationists and tourism operators rejected the proposal from the tuna operators, saying a partial ban or legislation would still leave loopholes fishermen could exploit.