Saturday, February 22, 2014

Destined for Shark Balls

Pier 39 Fish Auction Floor
During a long layover in Hawaii last Friday I went for a quick visit to the fish auction at Pier 38. It was just like the small auction in Toyama prefecture back when I lived in Japan, and nothing like the fish market in Fiji.  I love checking out these kinds of things, because like an unnamed Samoan chief once said, "fish is culture."

Some big skipjack tuna
Most of the fishermen who troll for fish in Saipan are catching this species, skipjack tuna.  They are usually just a lot smaller on Saipan.  I think fishermen will catch the occasional bigeye, but mostly they are catching these and yellowfin.  If looking at photos of dead fish is your bag, baby, I have posted several other photos of the fish I saw on The Saipan Blog Facebook Page.

Another reason I wanted to visit the fish auction was to see if there were any sharks.  I'm a shark conservationist, can you blame me?  And I found what I was looking for.  One shark. And from the looks of those claspers, I'd say this mako shark was a boy.

Looks at the size of those claspers!
Sharks are not like other fish.  When it comes to fish -- bony fish like tuna and reef fish -- most conservationists want to manage them so that their numbers increase and we can eat them.  Most of the people who work on sharks -- and there are several exceptions to what I am about to say -- do not want to improve shark populations because they want to eat them.  They want to improve shark populations because sharks are important wildlife that are important for ecosystem integrity, ecotourism, and the self-identity of many indigenous people.  Although I have done it in the past, I would be upset if I found out I was eating shark or using products made from their parts.

For nearly four years I've been working with US states and territories to ban the sale and trade of shark fin.  Each of the 11 state and territorial laws that have passed are unique and have their own fines and exemptions.  The laws in CNMI and Guam exempt sharks killed for cultural reasons.  Hawaii's fines are as high as $5,000, while another state's can be as low as $100.  Several states exempt small sharks such as dogfish, while one state exempts all fishermen that are licensed to fish for sharks.

About a year ago, the United States government issued a proposed rule that would overturn all 11 of these laws because the government claimed they interfered with the federal law that manages fisheries, thus preempting the local laws.

I suspect that the Obama Administration opposition to the federal law originated in Hawaii, which has the highest fines and no exemptions.  Hawaii has interpreted the law so that fishermen can continue to land makos and threshers for their meat, but disallows the sale of their fins.  I wanted to see for myself how many sharks were being landed.  And I found one.

I had a chat with one of the guys working at the fish market, and he said that the day we visited was a particularly slow day and that usually the boats will land a handful of sharks, not just one.  He also said that most of the sharks landed in Hawaii were rendered down to fish balls that are used in soup.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Beqa Lagoon Shark Summit

We were blissfully unaware of what the staff was doing behind us
After this week's Nadi CITES workshop, I spent a couple of hours performing underwater breathing exercises with the likes of Mike Neumann (holding the camera), Ingrid Sprake, Colin Simpfendorfer, Gary Adkison, Perry Sonntag, and Juerg Brunnschweiler.  We were joined over lunch by Ian Campbell.  All in all, one of the highest concentrations of sharky people on a boat in the Pacific Ocean this week.

During our summit, a male tawny nurse shark which had not been previously identified at this location showed up and some thought it bore a striking resemblance to me.  What do you think?

I now share a name with this lovely shark.  I hope he becomes as famous an icon for shark conservation as Emma the Tiger Shark in The Bahamas.  All I have to say is, so how about those claspers?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Nadi Workshop

Participants in the Nadi workshop
All week we've been referring to the Wollongong workshop.  This meeting I hereby dub the Nadi workshop.  It's much catchier than its official name.

Here's some stuff I said to the media:
Restoring shark populations in the South Pacific
Dawn Gibson
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

FIJI will play a key role in restoring shark populations in the South Pacific.

This was one of the messages from a manager at Pew Charitable Trusts, Angelo Villagomez, who said Fiji, as a party to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), would be an important part of a shark conservation conference which begins today in Nadi.

"This meeting, sponsored by the Department of Environment, Pew, and the Coral Reef Alliance, will help the Pacific parties to the CITES convention, including Fiji, implement the new protections for oceanic whitetip and three species of hammerhead sharks," Mr Villagomez explained yesterday.

"As a member of CITES, Fiji will have to issue non-detriment findings and prove that trade is sustainable in order to continue trade in these species."

When asked about the threat posed by fishermen catching sharks as bycatch, Mr Villagomez said there was a danger in referring to the sharks as "bycatch" because it was often done purposefully.

"Fishermen who are licensed to catch tuna will often catch sharks as 'bycatch'. This bycatch is often targeted, it is a wanted catch and has value.

"Targeting sharks is done by using gear designed to catch sharks, such as wire leaders and 'shark lines', short wires attached to buoys on longlines."

The two-day conference will see participants from around the South Pacific come together to discuss potential conservation methods.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Pandas Eating

Edz and I went to San Diego a few weeks ago and I've got some photos that I've been meaning to post.  Here are some photos of giant pandas enjoying their dinner.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

10 Years of February

The Saipan Blog will be 10 years old in December, although I've been blogging for just a little longer than that.  I posted 518 blogs in 2009, the year the monument was declared and the year I ran for mayor.  My posts have decreased steadily since then to a low of 79 last year.  My readership during that time has dropped from thousands per day to less than a hundred on most day.  My 10 Years in January post has less than 100 views as of this reading.  Undaunted by my unpopularity, I present 10 Years of February.

In February 2005 I wore a $540 Calvin Klein suit to an interview for a position with the JET Programme.  The rest of the month I was working at Roy's Restaurant slinging seafood.

In February 2006 I was unemployed by choice and spent most of my time exploring my little part of Japan.  I had something big brewing, meanwhile I went down to the ocean to look at boats and hopped the train to Kanazawa to look at trees.

Blogging was hot on Saipan in February 2007 and a group of us met regularly to discuss our hobby.  I was also interviewed about what life was like when I was in high school.  If I was old enough for a flashback in 2007, what am I now?  My weekends were spent cleaning beaches and playing soccer.

My career until this point involved selling food, knocking on doors, or picking up garbage.  And then Pew hired me to advocate for a large marine protected area.  I quickly became controversial.  I also had a new dog.

This was the first year I decided I was fat and tried to lose weight, a recurring event in my life now.  America had a new president and the Marianas had a new monument, but I was having a hard time realizing I had won.  Letting go of anger is hard.

A year after the monument was declared and the management plan and the visitors center were not yet reality.  Guam learned about it and started advocating for all jobs and construction to go to them instead.  Agnes and I went to Washington, DC to testify on behalf of the CNMI.

I went to Fiji for the first time in February 2011.  I spent more time in Guam than I ever have helping them to create their shark fin ban.  I also went to Saipan.

Three years after the monument declaration and I was still defending it.  Our good friend was murdered this month.  Edz and I organized a candlelight vigil for her.  The killer is currently in jail on an unrelated charge.

While Shark Stanley traveled the globe looking for friends to support his protection at CITES, I helped Cinta and Gus launch their album.  And I visited Fiji.

And this year I am in Fiji again, this time for a workshop with 11 governments from the region to provide training on how to implement the shark listings on the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna.

And that is 10 Years of February.  See you in March!