Tuesday, February 16th, 2016 (Michael Slezak). Australia supports addition of species to conservation memorandum while claiming exemptions from international agreement.
The Australian government has been accused of hypocrisy after signing a non-binding agreement protecting endangered sharks, despite recently withdrawing from a legally binding international accord.
In November 2014, the Australian government agreed to grant 31 species of sharks protection under the UN-administered convention on the conservation of migratory species of wild animals. That made it an offence under Australian law to catch those sharks.
Two months later, the government opted out of the agreement with respect to five of the species by filing “reservations”.
Using documents uncovered using freedom of information laws, Guardian Australia revealed the withdrawal occurred after consulting with recreational fishers but not with scientists.
But at a meeting in Costa Rica to update the non-binding document that implements the agreement – the memorandum of understanding on the conservation of migratory sharks – Australia has supported the addition of all those species of sharks.
“Australia is being hypocritical in pursuing things that make them look good but, where it counts, not saying to recreational fishers or commercial industries, ‘Sorry, you can’t take these species anymore’,” Jessica Harwood from the Humane Society International told Guardian Australia.
“While we are pleased that signatories including Australia have added these 22 threatened sharks and rays to the voluntary sharks MoU, we call on Australia to quit running from legally binding international measures which seek to protect migratory sharks by withdrawing these reservations under the convention.”
Harwood said that, as apex predators, sharks provided a critical role in keeping the marine ecosystem healthy, which gave an economic benefit to any industry that relies on it, including fisheries and tourism.
“Sharks all around the world are declining,” she said. “We really want to see Australia do the best it can to make sure that we are complying with international law so these species don’t go extinct.
“Australia used to be a world leader in shark conservation but more and more – with the Western Australian shark cull, drum lines on the Great Barrier Reef, shark nets and now these ‘reservations’ – we call on Australia to come back to being an international leader rather than going down the path we’re currently going down.”
The species in question include three species of thresher shark (big-eyed, pelagic and common) and two species of hammerhead (scalloped and great). According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, thresher sharks are considered vulnerable, with their populations decreasing, and the two species of hammerhead sharks are considered endangered.
Hammerhead sharks are not currently on the national threatened species list but are considered under threat by the New South Wales government, which bans the capture and killing of the animal in its state waters.
The environment minister, Greg Hunt, and the Department for the Environment have been contacted for comment.