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Richard Peirce

2012 closed with the shark conservation community holding its breath, praying that the landslide

vote by MEPs in late November for a prohibition on removing shark fins atseawouldberatifiedbytheCouncil of Ministers and come into law.

From a Shark Trust perspective the long road leading

to this historic position started in 2001 when the Trust presented a 15,000 signature petition to Margo Wallstrom (EU commissioner) which started the campaign to ban shark finning in Europe. In 2003 the EU Finning regulation was adopted; however the Trust was disappointed as there were loopholes allowing for the removal of fins at sea.

The Trust called for whole body landings as the only way

to effectively enforce a finning ban.

The Pew funded Shark Alliance was formed in 2006 to deliver the European Community Plan of Action for sharks with a review of the finning regulation as a key objective.

At the end of last year following a six year campaign by the Shark Alliance the MEPs voted overwhelming for FNA (Fins Naturally Attached) landings. I hope that by the time you read this the Council of Ministers will have approved the adoption of the FNA measures.

While we all realise that ultimately China holds the key to a future for sharks, this European position sets an example and sends a powerful message.

Last autumn I attended an evening organised by Fauna & Flora International which debated the question “Can we save our seas?”.

The one hour allowed didn’t begin to do justice to

the question or to the eminent panel which had been assembled for the discussion (Charles Clover, Prof. Callum Roberts, Will Anderson and Dr. Tiago Pitton).

A whole day, or better still a weekend, would have produced a valid debate and those attending would have left having gained a valuable insight into this complex and vitally important question.

The session should have been chaired by David Miliband MP but he was delayed in the Commons. Luckily Miliband did turn up before the debate ended and he observed there were really three questions – not just “Can we save

our seas?” but also “could we?” and “will we?”. These

are vital questions not just for divers but for everyone on the planet. However, taking the results of the UN Climate Change conference in Doha last November as an indicator, I am afraid the answers to Miliband’s three questions will probably be no, no and no.

IamluckyenoughtobeabletospendthewinterinSouth Africa which means I get in some great shark diving, and see shark eco-tourism in action.

In late January I was asked to go to Gansbaii to give a talk, and I took the opportunity of interviewing tourists after they had been cage diving. I interviewed seven people and all had been blown away by being up close to great white sharks. Two people had been afraid of sharks and went away eager to have more shark encounters; only three of the seven were divers, and one of the non divers said the experience had convinced him to take up diving; and all seven were keen to get involved in marine/shark conservation as a result of the experience.

I understand the concerns of those who are worried about shark eco-tourism in general and cage diving in particular, but on the day I did the interviews it was all positives.

Last September hurricane Nadine blew out a Shark Conservation Society expedition to the Azores. We had gone with the aims of tagging 50 blue sharks for an Aberdeen University research programme, having some fun diving with blues and makos and filming and photographing them. Nadine put paid to eight of our planned fourteen working days, and on four of the six days we did get to sea, there were no sharks. They had disappeared. We were in

a shark desert. Then we finished with a magical two days surrounded by blues and makos.

It seems plausible that the sharks sensed the pressure changes which heralded Nadine’s arrival and turbulent surface conditions, and decided to hang out in deeper, quieter waters until she had passed. We had chummed like crazy and got no sharks, but then when all was calm again they came back.

I believe there has been a paper written on black tips responding to changes in atmospheric pressure and avoiding the surface during storms, and it looks as if blues and makos may work similarly.

By the time you read this my new film “A Short Time Dying” should be able to be viewed in the Bahrain Expedition section of the SCS website (www. sharkconservationsociety.com). Please have a look, it’s about the Gulf heading towards becoming a new ‘dead sea’.

Go well, enjoy your shark encounters, and please don’t forgetI am an unpaid conservationist who needs you to buy my books and films.

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