UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, I am pleased to announce that the incoming Mayor in Daanbantayan has pro-actively responded to the situation in the region and additionally the Governor of Iloilo has pledged his support for the total outright ban of Hulbot Hulbot trawling in the Philippines. I believe that it is imperative that we understand globally that no amount of greenwash modification of trawling gear is acceptable considering the current state of the benthos and declining density of biodiversity in our oceans and that we must learn by example from the Philippines in this effort.
Here is my original post;
In China, it has been mooted that there is a swing away from eating shark fin soup it has been heralded as a victory for wildlife conservation.
However, in my opinion, cutting the demand may be key but thinking in a more in-depth perspective, we need to look at the reality of the supply chain and not merely the demand. Statistics for landings tend to be based on known easily quantifiable data, unfortunately the scope is far wider than this and more often more covert.
There are massive grey areas in the statistics. For example, what I describe as “travelling dry fin dealers” are all over the Coral Triangle scouring small subsistence/survival fishers for fins for the soup and medicine market. These are not classed as “landings.” They are not seen drying on the roof tops of Hong Kong. They are in the homes of tens of thousands living in the arcepelagic geography of the region. If you look, pretty much every other fisher house in the Philippines has a set of longline hooks on steel leaders. Why are they doing it? Well one reason is the money for sure and the need to pay for things like their children’s education.
The combined efforts of many small fishers extracting sharks I would imagine is huge as studies such as “many hooks” have shown. Although the bait outlay is big, the landing effort is not what you might imagine. I have been shark longlining many times with small scale fishers as a passive observer and filmed the process. Most often, bottom lines are left overnight with buoys, By the morning, most of the catch is exhausted from pulling the line and rock weights or one shark pulling against the next a few hundred feet up the line.
So we have a relatively easy gamble, gambling is popular, but in my opinion it is the push pull factors which are so often not addressed. We may be addressing the consumer, which is fine, however what happens at the other end? Think of this as an extension of a food web, but with human economics playing the part of the extension and the human as the apex predator prior to this extension. How does this apex predator survive if there is no economic food supply? They often turn to alternative methods of cheap an low outlay fishing such as Dynamite and Cyanide which cost less than half a dollar to deploy. Thus the reef gets massacred.
Meanwhile, over the past 30 years, intensive trawling such as Hulbot Hulbot inside Municipal waters has decimated survival fisher folk’s ability to be sustainable for the sake of mafia controlled black market economics. You can see this here and note the “sea beggers” receiving free bycatch at the rear.
Illegal Hulbot Hulbot Trawling In Daanbantayan Municipal Waters from Visual Persistence on Vimeo.
Since modified trawling cannot operate in deeper water and decimate the ecology, fishers claim that shark fishing is a great alternative to once profitable shallow water methods. This happens in other circumstances too. For example in Donsol where the WWF have the whale shark experience. Less than 500m from the visitor centre I interviewed a fishing village where many of the men were shark fishers for a living, selling to travelling dry fin dealers. Their other sources of income weren’t good enough apparently as they couldn’t fish for shrimp on the reefs which were now tourist attractions. That’s what they told me.
Grey areas such as these desperately need addressing. It’s simply not as simple as counting the landing statistics or looking at consumer trends or good PR campaigns; all ends of the equation need assessing. On a darker note, often, as cultural practices become more criminalised, the black market web thickens and the economics attract bigger players. This, in my opinion, is already happening with fishing mafias, just as we see with adrenalin poaching in Africa.
It also may be noted that there are probably far fewer shark fishers who fin repetitively than there are soup drinkers and effort may be more effective in providing alternative forms of livelihood.
Longline fisher in the central Visayas hauls up the line after a long night on the seabed.
The overnight float on a shark fisher’s longline. Sooty Terns enjoy a rest.
It’s a massively physical process hauling in the line and landing the catch. For example a Tiger Shark on a boat 16ft long and 2ft wide.
The Longliner travels out to try and find the line, tackle and floats. Hopefully he has caught some sharks. If not, the huge bait outlay has been gambled away.