The End of the International Year of the Shark

The Let Sharks Live Network
The Shark Group
December 31, 2009
The International Year of the Shark, 2009, is ending, and the creators, The Shark Group and The Let Sharks Live Network, consider it a fantastic success.
It was inspired by findings of The Global Shark Assessment that at current rates of decline, the most threatened shark species will be extinct in 10 to 15 years. In large regions, species that were once numerous have fallen to 1% of their original numbers. The massacre is comparable to that of the buffalo on the North American plains 200 years ago, but on a much larger scale. Yet these highly evolved and intelligent animals, also called the 'Wolves of the Sea' are still fished intensively, and barbarically finned alive, their bodies thrown back to die, for the shark fin soup market. Shark finning has only been practiced intensively since the 1980's, yet has already nearly succeeded in emptying the oceans, reefs, and continental shelves of sharks.
Long-line fishing ships also loot the oceans, with lines of up to 50 miles long, and thousands of baited hooks. For every 10 pounds of fish killed, they throw away 100 pounds of marine life. This waste of fifty billion pounds of marine life yearly, including sharks, is casually referred to as “by-catch”.
"The International Year of the Shark" was launched in 2009 to draw public attention to the plight of sharks (a third of their species are endangered). This plea for protection has become a movement and is picking up speed as more and more people join in lobbying to save sharks from extinction. The banner of the Year of the Shark has been flown by dive clubs, conservation groups, and NGO's all over the world. The Shark Group produced material for educational purposes in 14 languages, which was used and distributed globally by the members of The Sharks Live Network.
The Year began with the decision of Alibaba, the largest Chinese Internet trading company, to stop facilitating the sale of shark fins on its web-sites. Wolfgang Leander of The Shark Group, initiated the intensive lobbying and was joined by many other conservation groups. Brian W. Darvell, our spokesman in Hong Kong, met with company executives over the seriousness of the shark finning issue, and finally announced, "I have been assured by the company that the intention is that all Alibaba group websites will be shark fin-free on January 1st, 2009." And they were, on the first day of the Year of the Shark.
A wide variety of projects designed to help save sharks were initiated.
In America, The Shark Free Marinas project began, with the goal of freeing all marinas from shark killing. Omar Mulla, Oceanic Defence’s Youth Ambassador, of just sixteen, lead the Destin shark campaign to change all tournaments there from "Catch and Kill" to "Catch and Release." (Destin is popular for its sporting massacre of sharks).
Laura Morris, of the Shark Research Institute, with the dive club, Ocean Blue, initiated a campaign in New York City to remove shark fin soup from Asian restaurants there. Cooperative restaurants were given ‘No Finning’ decals for their entrance doors and cards that could be clipped to menus, explaining their decision to patrons.
The Shark Finatics, a group of young students led by Robin Culler continued to work on educating the public about the plight of sharks. They have explained the finning process to people who didn't know of it, held local workshops for children on sharks, and given talks on shark conservation in regional schools. The Finatic program will be included in a book to be published about the school, and will continue in coming years.
The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education (COARE) began issuing certifications designed to give consumers confidence that their choices help protect sharks, under its Shark Safe program, and established the website in several languages including Chinese. This will help to reach key audiences more effectively. "The need for shark conservation is a global issue, so our efforts must transcend international borders, cultural differences, and language barriers," said Christopher Chin, COARE's Executive Director.
In accordance with this sentiment, the remarkable film showing the true nature of sharks and exposing their massacre for the shark fin soup market, "Sharkwater" was taken to China by its creator, Rob Stewart and his team, to help educate the consumers of the dish about its true origins.
In Africa, the hard-hitting documentary 'Sharks in Deep Trouble,' by marine and shark conservationist, Lesley Rochat, (founder of The AfriOceans Conservation Alliance (AOCA)) raised awareness about the truth of shark finning and won several awards on the International film festival circuit. Using the success of the film, Lesley is lobbying for improved protection of sharks in South Africa through a petition she will be presenting to the Minister in the New Year. She started the AfriOceans Warriors Campaign, as a related Community Project for youth. Inspired by Lesley, who is also known as 'The Shark Warrior,' this highly active group is expanding Internationally
In the South Pacific, Palau declared its waters to be the first Shark Sanctuary, an illumined and heroic precedent by the government of this island country, in the fight to save the last Pacific sharks. Fiji launched a "Shark Conservation and Awareness Project" broadcasting widely the spirit and meaning of the International Year of the Shark. (French Polynesia had already protected its sharks by law in 2006).
The European Union produced the Plan of Action for Sharks, which included total protection for angel sharks and 3 species of rays. As the Year draws to a close, porbeable sharks and dogfish are coming under the protection of the law, and Cites is considering the addition of several more species to its list of endangered sharks.
Katrien Vandervelde, working with an informal network of shark conservationists and groups in Europe and America, initiated a powerful drive to stop the sale of thresher shark spines as dog chew toys.
The Shark Group also worked on the grave obstacle to shark protection erected by the mass media, as exemplified by Discovery Channel's 'Shark Week.' We publicized how for a generation, the network has been generating intense fear and hatred of sharks by using them as objects of horror to attract viewers and gain huge profits, while meekly suggesting that sharks also need to be protected from extinction.
Marie France published a book called “Nurse or Nemesis” to inform the public about the plight of the Australian Nurse shark and other threatened species.
Ila France Porcher's book, "My Sunset Rendezvous," which tells how the local sharks in Polynesia befriended her, and details their behaviour and the story of their finning, will soon be published.
Countless other individuals and groups all over the world promoted the need to protect sharks, each in their own way.
Members of The Shark Group and The Let Sharks Live Network declare, "The oceans are vital to all life on Earth, and they evolved to the present with sharks as predators at all levels, not only at the top of the ecological hierarchy. Without them, the oceanic habitat will crumble and change into something else, something that may not support human life. We must all consider the plight of sharks, and the health of the oceans as we do our own."
The International Year of the Shark in 2009 started a powerful grass-roots movement to save these remarkable and ecologically-important animals from extinction, one that we will continue to expand into the future.
Ila France Porcher
Josef Baron Kerckerinck zur Borg
Tarryn Abrahams
The Let Sharks Live Network
The Shark Group
For further information contact:
Notes to the Editor:
The International Year of the Shark had the following goals:

  • Convincing the consumers of shark fin soup that shark finning is unsustainable and that the dish must be made using a substitute for the shark fins. Shark fin soup is a tasteless delicacy whose main use in the Far East is to display high social status. If there is no market, the slaughter will cease.

  • Educating the public regarding the true nature of sharks and their threatened status, to counter the effects of shark attack hysteria, as spread by the mass media, and which for years has posed a serious barrier to their protection.

  • Obtaining protection for threatened species.

  • Solving the problem of the slaughter resulting from the use of shark nets and drum lines, used to protect beaches in some areas.

  • Reducing by-catch losses, and the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limits defined in fisheries law

  • Promoting marine protected areas, and enforcing protection of sharks within existing ones.

  • Persuading shark fishermen to practise tag and release only, rather than killing the sharks they fish.

We have worked faithfully on them all, though the problem of by-catch and shark finning remains overwhelming.



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