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Fiji Time: 4:11 AM on Friday 25 April

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Save the sharks

Ilaitia Turagabeci
Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SHARK advocate Manoa Rasigatale says Fijians should take a cue from another Pacific island which has joined the list of countries that ensure shark protection.

Earlier this month, the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources promulgated new regulations protecting large coral reef fish and all shark species.

Mr Rasigatale — who is part of the push for a proposed shark management plan after a shark sanctuary plan promoted by the Coral Reef Alliance was rejected by the Ministry of Fisheries, only months after it had supported it — said time Fiji had to act to protect its shark species.

"We should seriously look at it. A shark management plan is better than nothing and we should support it," he said.

"The sharks are still being plundered out there as we talk. We need to act fast."

The ministry is drafting the shark management plan while the Pew Environment Group, which backed the failed shark sanctuary campaign, has offered its expertise to the ministry on shark identification and tagging.

American Samoa's new regulations make permanent an executive order protecting sharks by American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono in August. The new protections are the strongest of any American state or territory and serve as the new model for protecting shark populations in the US.

The key provisions of the shark protections in American Samoa include:

* No fishing of sharks in territorial waters;

* No retention of bycatch whether dead or alive;

* No possession of sharks or shark fins — even sharks caught outside territorial waters; and

* No sale, trade, or possession of sharks in territorial waters or land.

Studies showed American Samoa only has between 4 and 8 per cent of its sharks left on its reefs. These low numbers threaten the local reef ecosystems, the cultural value of sharks in American Samoa and fishing in the future.

Pew global shark conservation campaign manager Jill Hepp said the hard work of American Samoans had paid off and they looked forward to working with them on issues related to enforcement, outreach, and education, as well as connecting with the Pacific shark sanctuaries in Palau, Marshall Islands, Tokelau, and Kosrae on best practices, and spreading shark protections across the region.