Shark diving is one of the main attractions in Malapascua Island in northern Cebu, a half-hour boat ride from Daanbantayan town.
Foreign and local divers consider it a successful day when they can observe thresher sharks swimming in Monad Shoal. Hammerhead sharks are common in Kumud Shoal, mostly seen between April and May.
What if you see a dead shark being sold in the public market?
A photo of a juvenile hammerhead shark on the tiled floor of a wet market in Daanbantayan town is stirring indignation and calls for more protection.
The photo was taken by the Filipina girlfriend of a foreign divemaster, who initially commented on her Facebook account that she felt “very lucky” to see a shark in the market last April 25 without having to go underwater.
The image was quickly reposted on Facebook walls of other concerned divers and environment advocates to alert others.
Shark fins are prized as a delicacy, and exported by the tons from the Philippines to Hong Kong where they are served as high-priced exotic soup. The meat is also eaten.
“How sad to see this…,” wrote Malapascua-based dive master Maricris Legaspi, who posted the photo on her Facebook wall.
“You will be lucky when you see a Hammerhead shark in Kimod Shoal because now it is really hard to see them… They are now endangered species here in the Philippines. Even for Thresher Sharks. Many fisherman don’t care about them…They are so beautiful creatures under the water… Now you can find it in the market to sell and to eat…”
Legaspi told CDN some of her fellow dive instructors saw a group of fishermen hunting thresher sharks in Monad Shoal, usually at night to early morning when sharks are most active.
NO BAN ENFORCED
A Cebu provincial ordinance passed in 2010 prohibits the hunting, sale, buying or killing of “vulnerable species” of fish.
The local ordinance names thresher sharks (lawhihan or sakol), giant manta rays (sanga) and sun fish (mola-mola) in the list.
Protection of whale sharks, locally called “tuki” and “butanding” were added in the province’s Environment Code in a separate ordinance. But no mention is made of hammerhead sharks.
Daanbantayan Mayor Augusto Corro said he would investigate the matter and look for the person who put the shark on display in the market.
“I’m very sad about this incident but as I understand, it’s not just here in Daanbantayan. I entertain these reports and I consider them true,” Corro told Cebu Daily News.
He said he learned that a few operators from Leyte province hunt thresher sharks, which are being bought from fishermen for P5,000 to P10,000 depending on their size.
The mayor said it was a priority of his administration to stop all forms of illegal fishing.
Overfishing around the globe is putting hammerhead sharks at risk of extinction. Those who harvest the animals typically cut off the fins and toss the rest of the fish back into the sea, where the sharks, unable to swim, die.
What was displayed in the Daanbantayan wet market appears to be a scalloped hammerhead shark (scientific name: Sphyrna lewini), which is classified as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said Vince Cinches.
Cinches, the Cebu-based Greenpeace Southeast Asia Ocean Campaigner, posted the same photo on his Facebook wall.
Only one shark was displayed in the market along with some crabs last week. It was not mentioned how much the fish was being sold for.
Three types of hammerhead sharks are considered globally “vulnerable” to extinction by the IUCN — the great hammerhead shark, the smooth hammerhead shark and the scallloped hammerhead shark.
Large numbers of juveniles are captured using fishing gear in nearshore coastal waters. According to the iucnredlist.org, the fins are of high value than other species because of their high fin ray count.
NO BAN YET
Although the Philippines has a Wildlife Resource Conservation and Protection Act, there is no law that specifically protects hammerhead sharks, said Cebuano environment lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr.
He said this means shark fishing in the Philippines is still legal, unmonitored and unregulated.
Malapascua Island is rated among the best dive spots in the world for its marine biodiversity, particularly its thresher sharks which are endemic in the area.
Mayor Corro said dive shops in Malapascua who benefit from the rich marine life are “cooperative” in helping the local government curb illegal fishing but he said there are still illegal operators who are able to get away.
The protection of thresher sharks in Malapascua and the island’s proposed upgrade as a national marine park is being pushed by Anna Oposa, a rescue diver and co-founder of the Save Philippine Seas movement.
SHARK SHELTER LOBBY
Last week, the movement claimed victory for its Shark Shelter Program after Philippine Airlines (PAL) positively responded to its online petition against transporting shark fins to Hong Kong enroute to Dubai.
PAL in a press release last week, said it would “formalize and strenthen a freigh policy” it adopted to stop the shipment of sharks fin.
Anna Oposa, daughter of the noted environment lawyer, in a statement said PAL’s move was a “victory for all sharks species who are brutally murdered for their fins.”
“This will also send a powerful message to the government and other airlines tha the private sector can significantly contribute in sustainability efforts, said petitioner Oposa in a joint statement with Greenpeace Philippines.
In 2013, during a CITES conference in Bangkok, scalloped hammerhead sharks were one of five shark species placed under control of the trade agreement.
(CITES is The Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna). This means that shark fins must be traded with CITES permits and that traders must have proof that they were harvested “sustainably and legally”.
According to a July 2013 report by the global monitoring network Traffic and World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the Philippines exports 73,320 kilos of shark products to Hong Kong every year.
The number could be higher, said Cinches of Greenpeace, since the actual trade activity , is not monitored.