We all know that sharks hold a certain fascination in the American mind. I myself cannot drag myself away from the television during the Discovery Channel’s shark week. What you may not know is that according to the IUCN, up to 30 percent of pelagic shark species (those that live in the “open ocean”) are considered threatened, due at least in part to a large commercial “sharking” industry, an industry which conservation organizations estimate kills 73 million sharks per year.
In an effort to battle the large, lucrative, “sharking” industry, the Republic of the Marshall Islands has recently announced that it was to be home to the largest shark sanctuary in the world. In the 768,547 square mile sanctuary, commercial hunting for sharks is banned, as is the sale of shark products. A violation of these bans can result in fines ranging from 25,000-200,000 dollars.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is not the first nation to create sanctuary for these embattled creatures. Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas and Tokelau all have such sanctuaries. The addition of the Marshall Islands sanctuary now means that 1.0 to 1.8 million sq miles of the world’s oceans are protected shark areas.
It is also great to note that the Marshall Islands will not be the last nation to create such a sanctuary. Last month, Mexico declared that starting next year it will also ban shark and stingray fishing in its waters. Furthermore, Mexico was part of an 8 country declaration (including Honduras and the Maldives, among others) in which the countries agreed to work towards a greater level of shark conservation in their respective countries and worldwide.
At this time, the United States has no plans for imposing it’s own moratorium on shark hunting within U.S. waters, but in an email to the New York Times, NOAA spokeswoman Monica Allen said “The U.S. is supportive of countries trying to put forward shark conservation measures.”