How Can We Catch Tuna and Protect Sharks?

Credit: Joi Ito, Creative Commons
Credit: Joi Ito, Creative Commons

Mike Sweeney, Managing Director of Global Fisheries, The Nature Conservancy
Steven Victor, Director of Micronesia Program, The Nature Conservancy

Shark fin soup has become a symbol of mistreatment of marine life. Sharks caught for their fins are tossed back into the sea. Unable to swim, they starve to death, are eaten or drown. People pay a lot of attention to fishing practices like this, and it has become illegal in many countries. But legal tuna fishing in the Pacific Ocean is destructive to sharks as well. This is an industry essential for the livelihoods of people across the region. Tuna fishing doesn’t need to be shut down, but it can be more sustainable. The question becomes: How can we catch tuna and protect sharks?

In the island nation of Palau, part of the region that controls the largest and most productive remaining tuna fisheries in the world, the government took shark fin bans to another level and created the world’s first shark sanctuary years ago. More recently, Palau created a groundbreaking national marine sanctuary that will turn 80 percent of its roughly 230,000 square mile exclusive economic zone into a no-take protected area. Palau’s 20,000 people rely on this zone, which is about the size of France. A recent New York Times Magazine article trumpeted the importance of Palau’s efforts to combat illegal fishing. This is a big step, but it’s not enough. Poachers aren’t the only problem – legal fishing practices are harmful too. Fishermen need to find a better way to fish for their own livelihoods and for the ocean’s health.

Hooking sharks, turtles and rays

Each year, Western and Central Pacific tuna fisheries produce tuna valued at more than $7 billion, yet current fishing practices, particularly in the —> Read More