Opinion: News stories on and around January 9 with headlines along the lines of: 'Shark finning gets total NZ ban' has lead many people to believe we have won the battle against this barbaric practice. If you are one of those that read beyond the headlines you will know that this is in fact not true. The government were compelled to respond to more than 45,000 submissions opposing the previous shark fin plan, but the response was as muddy as New Zealand's "clean green" image, and a heavy blow to ocean ecosystems.
The New Zealand government has opted for phasing out shark finning over a lengthy period of nearly three years, with blue sharks, the most vulnerable of all the species, only being protected from October 2016. By then it may be too late for the blues.
Famous shark diver and conservationist, Hawaiian born Ocean Ramsey, will be arriving in New Zealand on February 8 and working alongside New Zealand shark scientist Riley Elliott on a two-week mission to drum up support for sharks.
New Zealand is averaging around 24,000 tonnes of shark fins exported to Hong Kong annually, and is one of the biggest exporters of shark fins globally. Riley Elliott is doing a PHD on his research of blue sharks, and is fast proving his hypothesis that New Zealand is a breeding and birthing ground for the blues. A few weeks ago, during a trip to Great Barrier Island, he spotted 10 new born blue sharks, all still with their umbilical scars and skin folds from being in the womb. That same day he and his team also spotted and tagged a 2.5 metre female still with placenta attached to her and recent mating scars.
Sadly this area north east of New Zealand is also the epicentre for shark finning, with hundreds of thousands of blue sharks killed every year. Says Riley, "All eight mature sharks I tagged last year transmitted daily whilst in the protected waters of our Pacific neighbours. Upon their migratory return to New Zealand waters they stopped transmitting, the timing and area of which coincides with the peak tuna fishing season. It is likely they were caught and finned. This is not only a tragedy, but it also means that $30 000 worth of hard-earned research money has been shredded into a bowl of soup."
What research is showing is that pregnant females reside around North East New Zealand waters for gestation, and pup before intercepting migrating males to mate, as they move north through the Kermadec region. The males continue north and the females return to coastal New Zealand waters to gestate.
This means that unregulated impacts from the removal of 150,000 blue sharks a year in and around these waters - just for fins - may prove devastating for the blue shark population and the related ecosystems these creatures have such a vital impact on.
Riley Elliott will return to Great Barrier Island in February, this time with Ocean Ramsey, combining their efforts to raise awareness of shark conservation, and with their sights set on putting pressure on government to move the dial on blue shark finning in New Zealand.
Says Riley, "Other than financial gain, there is absolutely no reason for the government to wait until October 2016 before they start protecting the blue sharks. Scientifically, such exploitation has caused declines of up to 88% in blue shark populations in the northern hemispshere. It is humiliating for New Zealanders who clearly love their oceans and have voiced this to our Government 45,000 times."
Visit sharkwhisperers.com to find out more about the tour.
Below is Riley Elliot tagging a blue shark. More videos can be seen here.