American Samoa introduces 'most powerful' shark protection | Pacific Beat

American Samoa introduces 'most powerful' shark protection

American Samoa introduces 'most powerful' shark protection

Updated 16 November 2012, 10:24 AEDT

American Samoa is the latest Pacific territory to introduce protection for sharks and three species of rare reef fish, the Giant Grouper, the Humphead Wrasse and the Bumphead Parrotfish.

It's promulgated regulations that are described as "the most powerful protection for sharks in the USA, and the only protection for the other reef fish within the USA."

It's not only fishing that is killing of the shark and reef fish populations in American Samoa but also the other effects of human activities, like sediment, nutrient and chemical runoff into the sea.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Dr Douglas Fenner -- Coral Reef Ecologist, Department of Marine & Wildlife Resources, American Samoa


FENNER; The first step was to find out if we had a problem and then we have drafted up the regulations that make illegal for anyone in the territory to catch any of these fish or to possess any of these fish and the regulations were doctored this past Sunday on the 11th. and so now it's illegal for anyone to possess or to catch them and we have an enforcement division. We'll be initially going through the process of making sure that all the fishermen know about this and then if our enforcement division hears about or sees anyone possessing or catching them, then they will probably begin with warning and then if warnings are not heeded, then they will cite them and then they will end up having to go into the legal process of paying a fine or going to court or whatever.
COUTTS: Well, how far out will these regulations actually cover? Is it just the immediate coastline?
FENNER: Right, so this is a regulation of the Territory of American Samoa, which is a possession of the United States and the Territory has jurisdiction over the waters out to a distance of three miles from the shoreline. Beyond that, the Exclusive Economic Zone is controlled by the United States, so we have no control beyond three miles officially in terms of enforcing anything, any of our regulations. So anyone who catches or possesses any of these fish within those three miles or on land in our territory is in violation and can be cited. We think that it will have some affects outside that, because most anyone anywhere near our islands, but beyond that three miles. If they catch something there, they're very likely to want to bring it into our port and if they bring it into our territory and its one of these fish, they're then in violation, which makes the regulation a bit more powerful than just the three miles. We hope to have a little bit of an affect outside of that area. It's legal for them to catch it outside the three miles, but it's not legal to bring in, so they would have to go to some other archipelago to go land it, so we're hoping to have a little bit more affect.
COUTTS: Well, the regulations, these new regulations they only apply to the Humphead, Bumphead and Giant Groper?
FENNER: And all species of sharks, that's correct. So basically our motivation was that our coral reefs here have relatively low numbers of those, Bumphead Parrot Fish, in particular, are pretty close to extinction. They're very rare here and we wanted to protect and to help protect our coral reefs. And so they're all large fish and so that happens because fishing generally takes the very largest fish first and they disappear first and they're the hardest hit. So we've got lots of little fish, but it's the big fish, so we're doing it selectively. We don't want to impinge on smaller fish that are abundant. We do not want to restrict fishermen from catching things that are not in trouble and we've got lots of small fish. They're not in obvious trouble, so we want to make it. It's a specific thing. We don't want to have to be a broad thing that that impinges of fishing for things that don't require protection yet.
COUTTS: Well, is protection enough? Are there breeding programs to go with this to try and save the Bumphead, in particular, the Bumphead Parrot Fish?
FENNER: Right. I suppose I don't know of anyone around the world who has a breeding program for them. Our level of knowledge of the biology of them is not super. It's not like some of the fish, like say salmon or something for which a huge amount of biology is known. So to my knowledge, it hasn't been bred in captivity. We don't have enough fish left. We can't find two of them at once, let alone of different sex that we could possibly breed. So at this point, that's the only practical measure that we have, that we can do and at this point, we want to try to arrest any further decline of these fish if we possibly can and hopefully allow them to regain and recover their original populations.
COUTTS: Well, is overfishing the real issue or the degradation of climate change on the coral reefs contributing to it?
FENNER: Well, I think at this point the fishing is probably the biggest contribution. It's very hard to tell how much contribution the different things have. We're looking around the world everywhere at a future in which climate change will be causing corals to get too hot and when they get too hot, they turn white. We call it bleaching. And if the heat is too high, then they basically cook and it kills them and the coral reefs are the habitat for these fish. So we're looking at very grave danger in the future unless the world gets the emissions, particularly carbon dioxide under control and so we're doing our best to try to prepare for this by protecting things that are in maybe in trouble, but it's going to be a huge problem and we will be fighting on all fronts and we may lose the battle unless the carbon dioxide gets under control.
COUTTS: Well, the fish, of course, is a staple for local communities. Are you getting much support from them in this protection of these species of fish?
FENNER: At this point, the fishermen here are pretty quiet. There's been a couple of people who've said ghee,if we pull up a fish and it's still alive and we let it go, that's not a problem, but if we pull up a fish that's dead, can't we at least keep it? And we can't really allow that because every fishermen who brings a dead fish to the shore, will say, oh, it was dead when we caught it. But other than that, we have no objections and people are pretty quiet. I think people are catching very few of these fish, because they are so rare and so it's a very little sacrifice for the fishermen to protect these fish. And basically if we can get them to recover, we can allow fishing and allow them to actually catch more than they can catch presently. So it's in the long term interest of the fishermen to protect these fish and get their stocks replenished, because it will  help and everyone here would like to have their children and grandchildren at least have the option some day to catch these fish and if we lose them they go extinct. There's no chance that they will be able to do that. So I think people are being pretty supportive.

Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.