Wädenswil, Switzerland/St. Augustine, USA/Lima, Peru, December 19th, 2016. The Peruvian Ministry of Production has banned the notorious harpoons used in the artisanal longline fishery to kill dolphins for shark bait. Video evidence of the use of these harpoons was obtained by Stefan Austermühle of the Peruvian marine conservation group Mundo Azul. The government has also banned the landing of shark fins to discourage shark finning. A coalition of marine conservation organisations including OceanCare (Switzerland), BlueVoice (USA) and Mundo Azul (Peru) welcome these recent steps but call for strict implementation, controls and stiff penalties. OceanCare will submit a petition to the new Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
While Peruvian legislation makes it a criminal offense to harm dolphins and other cetacean species in Peruvian waters, fishermen operating far off the coast kill dolphins with little fear of being caught. The Peruvian Ministry of Production has passed a regulation that prohibits the possession and use of fishing gear known as „animal harpoon” through Supreme Decree No. 021-2016-PRODUCE, published in the official newspaper El Peruano on November 2, 2016. Mundo Azul, together with its partner organisations OceanCare and BlueVoice has been instrumental in exposing the fact that such hand-held harpoons have been widely misused for the illegal capture of dolphins for shark bait.
“It has taken three years of continued efforts of civil society to achieve this harpoon ban. Since the deadly device is the only way dolphin can be hunted, this constitutes an overdue measure toward halting the slaughter of up to 15,000 dolphins a year, ending immeasurable suffering. We commend the Peruvian government on taking this step in the right direction,” says Sigrid Lüber, president of OceanCare.
The killing of dolphins for shark bait is being carried out by a fleet of at least 500 small-scale longline shark fishing boats that operate along the entire Peruvian coast and even venture far out into international waters. “With a small device such as the tip of a harpoon that can easily be hidden in a pocket and a coastline of 2,500km, a translation of the ban into an actual law, strict implementation, regular controls and stiff penalties against violations are crucial; otherwise, this regulation remains a paper tiger – toothless and ineffectual,” adds Lüber. OceanCare will submit a petition to the Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to this effect, also requesting to pass an overdue temporary ban on shark fishing.
In addition to the dolphin slaughter that could now potentially be prevented, a second one remains – the killing of sharks. Shark fisheries in Peru are also in violation of Peru’s legislation, as 95% of the sharks caught are juveniles, bringing the stocks to the brink of extinction.
To address the overexploitation of shark stocks, Peru’s Ministry of Production also bans the landing of loose shark fins, mandating that the sharks must be landed whole, with the presence of head and all its fins adhered to the body. With this regulation, the government seeks to prevent shark finning, illegal transhipment at sea or illegal trade with loose fins, thus promoting the full use of the resource. “Unfortunately, this ban on loose shark fin landing does not address the real problem. Our investigations have shown that sharks are not only being caught for their fins, they are historically caught for their meat for local consumption. Hence, the bodies are not being discarded at sea but landed and the fins, as valuable by-product, cut-off ashore,” says Stefan Austermühle, president of Mundo Azul. “The real problem here is that tens of thousands of sharks are killed in Peru every year and most of these animals are juveniles, which is in violation of legislation already in place. Again, the government needs to commit resources to implement and control their existing regulations”, Austermühle adds.
Earlier in the year, initial proceedings began in the trial of three Peruvian shark fishermen accused of killing dolphins. It is the first case of prosecution of fishermen and application of the law since 1996 that strictly prohibits any intentional injuring, hunting and consumption of dolphins. “Recently, we reported on the trial of dolphin killers. Now, we can celebrate the ban of harpoons and the landing of shark fins. These latest developments are hopeful signs, that the Peruvian state commits itself more strongly to the conservation of its marine biodiversity,” says Hardy Jones, executive director of BlueVoice. “We are in the final stage of editing the footage from the undercover investigation into the dolphin and shark slaughters for a documentary film for international television broadcast. Now, we have a promising ending for the film,” Jones concludes.
A coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including OceanCare (Switzerland), BlueVoice (USA) and Mundo Azul (Peru) are collaborating to end the brutal slaughter of dolphins and sharks in Peru.