NATIONAL carrier Air Pacific yesterday announced a ban on the carriage of shark fins and shark-related products from "unsustainable and unverified sources".
And the airline has made a commitment to work with conservation partners and the fishing industry to ensure that all shark-related products that are ferried by the carrier are from sustainable sources.
The announcement comes in the wake of allegations made by the South China Morning Post in a news report last month that a "substantial amount" of shark fins imported to Hong Kong by air was ferried by Air Pacific.
In a statement issued by the airline, acting CEO Aubrey Swift said while the news report was inaccurate, Air Pacific decided to impose a ban after conducting a month-long review of freight policies relating to carriage of the controversial cargo.
"We have always understood that this is a sensitive and important matter," he said.
"Notwithstanding the gross inaccuracies and misleading reporting about this issue by some sections of the media, we recognise and accept our responsibilities on environmental and conservation issues and take them very seriously."
Mr Swift said the airline held discussions with freight forwarders, suppliers, fishing industry and sought the expertise of conservation organisations.
"Our findings indicate that Fijian-licensed vessels have documented standards in place on how to effectively manage this issue.
"The situation is not so clear for unlicensed or foreign vessels.
"After taking into account various considerations, our review highlights that we need clearer and stricter policies in place to ensure that suppliers only ship sustainably-sourced shark products.
"This is consistent with our overriding commitment to environmental protection and conservation efforts in Fiji."
"We believe a ban on the shipment of unsustainably-sourced shark fins is the right thing to do, and have implemented this policy effective immediately. We will now work with conservation partners and the fishing industry to prepare and implement policies and processes that will ensure that future shipments are sustainably sourced", Mr Swift added.
A letter opposing Air Pacific's shark cargo, signed by a coalition of environmental groups which included Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson and Ric O'Barry, star of the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, was sent to the airline and quoted by South China Morning Post.
Arthur Sokimi, Fiji's field representative for the Coral Reef Alliance, said the ban was a step in the right direction.
"Now the work will be to ensure that fishing interests that are keen to profit from the trade in threatened species adhere to a rigorous and verifiable standard for proof of sustainability," he said.
"With Air Pacific joining Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, and Korean Airlines in banning the transport of shark fins, the message is growing increasingly obvious that sharks are worth far more alive to Fiji's economic future than they are dead in the holds of aircraft en route to Asia.
"We look forward to a future where Fiji's sharks are fully protected as they are not only critical to our tourism economy but, more importantly for us Fiji islanders, vital in ensuring the health of our marine ecosystem."