Sharks are a group of fish characterized by a cartilaginous skeleton, five to seven gill slits on the sides of the head. Having been around for over hundreds of millions of years, sharks are carnivorous and eat fish as well as larger animals and play a very important role in the marine ecosystem.
Over the past decades, shark fishing is the traditional industry of fishermen in many countries. Modern technology of fishing, coupled with easy approaching off-shore fishing has caused an increase in fishing efforts and shark yield. In addition, the increasing demand of shark glucosamine has boost shark and Rhincodon typus production to rise from 300 thousand tons to 800 thousand tons in the period 1950-1999. Of this figure, shark yield alone increased from 200 thousand tons to 600 thousand tons. According to statistics, there are about 273 million of sharks being killed by human every year. This raised a common concern about the depletion of this species. According to scientists’ assess, if human continues to maintain the shark fishing as current level, some of shark species are endanged of extinct as well as risk to marine ecosystem.
Being aware of the risk of rapid decline in sharks stocks and their impact on biological diversity, many countries in the world have developed strategies for the conservation and sustainable management of sharks.
In Viet Nam, the draft of the National Action Plan for conservation of shark species in Vietnam in the period 2017-2025 has been built and a consulting workshop on discussing the draft has just been held by the Directorate of Fisheries in Ha Noi on the morning November 22rd 2016 to complete the draft.
The workshop was attended by the representatives of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Research Institute of Marine Fisheries, University of Natural Sciences, representatives of a number of coastal provinces and units under the Directorate of Fisheries.
Neccessary for setting up the National Action Plan for conservation of sharks
As reported at the workshop, sharks play a very important role in the marine ecosystem. Sharks fishing has been considered as the traditional fishing industry in many countries over the recent decades. However, in recent decades, fishing according to the modern technology, combined with the ability to approach more off-shore fishing grounds has caused an increase in fishing effort and catches of sharks, as well as the expansion of fishing grounds.
Being awared of the important role that sharks play in the marine ecosystem, since 2000, many countries in the world has been taking many researches on the biology and stock assessment which laid a basic ground for management and protection of this specie. In particular, based on the results of scientific research, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has provide d the list of endangered and at risk species to put on the list of banned trading or restricted trading. Other international organizations such as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) regionally and internationally also set up specific action plans and technical barriers to conserve and develop sharp resources . In adition, many countries in the Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and so forth have national programs on sharks conservation.
In Viet Nam, the species of cartilaginous fish is characterized by a wide distribution in most of the waters from the North, Central, South, from coastal waters to offshore ones. They can be randomly caught or pusposely caught by different types of fisheries such as bottom trawls, purse seines, gillnets and especially shark hook and line. Although cartilaginous fish fishing, especially sharks fishing for their fins has developed since the '80s, until now studies on this species, from the studies of characteristics biology, ecology to resources, status fishing, trafficking, use and management of fishery has been posted a shortcoming and limitation.
Viet Nam has been a member of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1994, and official or unofficial member of many organizations fisheries and fisheries trading in the region and in the world such as the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), World Trade Organization (WTO). Viet nam’s Fisheries sector plays an important role in the national economy, from the value of exports to the issue of socio-economic stability, security and national defense at sea. As a result, in order to integrate and develop fisheries sector, paying attention to management policies as well as measures to prevent trade barriers that can affect seafood exports is very crucial. In the current context, the construction of the national action plan for the conservation of sharks is necessary which could meet the international commitments to which Viet Nam has taken, and gradually take measures to conserve sharks in the waters of Viet Nam.
Some of the contents in the draft of the National Action Plan
The common goal of the National Action Plan for the conservation of sharks in Viet Nam 2017-2025 period is to manage, effectively conserve and sustainably use shark resources in Viet Nam to maintain biodiversity and long-term viability of shark populations which could help ensure its important role in the marine ecosystem and meet the requirements of international organizations, conventions which Vietnam is a party.
In order to realize these objectives, the Action Plan is divided into phases with specific contents. Firstly, in the period of 2017-2018 , it will complete the legal framework, mechanisms, policies and legal documents which could meet the requirements of regional fisheries organizations and the commitments that Vietnam is a member. Secondly, it will implement the projects of investigation, research, collecting data on species composition, biological characteristics, distribution of shark species in order to make appropriate management regime. Thirdly, it will build a database system for the sharks to serve the management and conservation. In addition, it will compile two books on the classification of shark in the waters of Viet Nam. Furthermore, there will be pproximately 50-70 per cent of fishermen will release some shark species alive belonging in the list of endangered, rare and specious and keep the whole body for dead shark. In the period 2018-2020: there will be over 70 per cent of fishermen will release some shark species alive belonging in the list of endangered, rare and specious and keep the whole body for dead shark. Apart from this, over 70 per cent of the fishermen will know information about shark species which are listed in the Viet Nam Red Book and in the appendices of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) .
Besides, the National Action Plan for sharks conservation in Viet Nam also pointed out the specific tasks to complete the goals, such as strengthening measures to minimize the impact on shark species; strengthening researches, monitoring and data collection of sharks; raising awareness of the community and staff capacity in charge of the conservation of sharks; strengthen cooperation in regional and international on sharks conservation and protection.
At the workshop, the delegate came up with the measures to implement the Action Plan, including solutions for policy mechanisms; science and technology; propagandan, education, awareness-raising and international cooperation.
The practical problems of implementation of the Action Plan in Vietnam
According to a study by the Research Institute Marine Fisheries , in 2000-2013, there were 78 sharks and Batoidea belonging to 42 varieties, 25 different families and 8 classes in different waters of Viet Nam . The number of species found in the survey between 2000 and 2005 is higher than the recent study shows that the decline of this resource.
The results of survey on consulting fishermen and middlemen recorded that there were about 13 shark species catched by fishermen, of which most are fish caught in the offshore areas. Some common species are catched including Alopiidae, Siluriformes, Carcharhinus limbatus, Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, Lamniformes and Sphyrna lewini . Among the identified shark species, the great white shark and Galeocerdo cuvier are species attacking humans. However, these species are mainly catched in inshore and offshore areas.
Currently, sharks are mainly exported in the forms of fins, shark cartilage and shark meat. The main export markets are Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore.
According to the delegates at the workshop, the implementation of the Action Plan on conservation of shark species in Vietnam is necessary. However, it is necessary that the construction of action plans should attach to the status of shark fishing in the Viet Nam's waters, as well as international regulations. The immediate priority is to make propaganda for the fishermen, so that they recognize the importance of the protection of sharks, and understand which sharks species are allowed to be exploited and which are not. In addition, the investigations of shark resources should have survey methods such as shark sampling should be persuaded to provide a reliable information, thereby it could help develop the detailed and practical contents of the action plan.
The draft of the Action Plan for the conservation of shark species in Viet Nam will continue to be edited and completed and will be submited to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for approval. The draft will be implemented across the country which will make a great contribution to the international community’s protection and effective conservation of sharks.