Over the course of three weeks, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment through the Division of Environment and Conservation concluded its nationwide community awareness programs on the new amendment to the Marine Wildlife Protection Regulation 2009 (the Marine Regulation). The Marine Regulation came into force in 2009 to regulate the protection and conservation of marine species namely whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks. In 2018, amendments were made to strengthen provisions relating to the conservation, protection and management of turtles and sharks that are recognized under the National Marine Sanctuary for Samoa.
The overall purpose of the awareness programs was to keep the communities informed of the legal reforms under this particular regulation, it also emphasized the importance of sharks and turtles in our marine ecosystems, to our economy and also our culture. Sharks are often perceived as aggressive and scary fish in the sea. However, many people do not understand the crucial role sharks play in maintaining the food chain and balance of fisheries as well as serving as an indicator for ocean health.
Many shark populations around the world are decreasing due to commercial fisheries (targeted and by-catch) that catch sharks mainly for their shark fins (shark fining) and other shark products It is estimated that 63 to 273 million sharks are killed every year in commercial fisheries. This has resulted in nearly 30% of shark species threatened with extinction and 26% are nearing threatened status. Unlike other fish, many shark species are long-lived, slow to breed and produce only a few pups each year, these characteristics make them vulnerable and slow to recover from depletion due to the impacts of increased fishing pressures.
The amendment on the Marine regulation aims to strengthen the prohibition of commercial fishing including by-catch for marine species such as sharks. By-catch is defined under the amendment as the incidental or accidental catch of non-target species such as sharks, dolphins and turtles. Commercial fishing or commercial purpose is now amended to not only include “sell” but also “buy” and not only encompasses exchange using “money” but also other goods or financial gains or rewards. In spite of the offences under the amendment, it is not an offence if a shark is killed to protect a human life, or is caught using non-motorised vessel (e.g. paopao) for consumption. For the provisions on turtles, commercial fishing is prohibited unless taking or catching is for traditional purposes.
In March this year, Samoa joined 16 other countries in establishing a National Marine Sanctuary to protect, conserve and sustainably managed turtles, sharks, whales and dolphins throughout the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).