My name is ‘Eseta Schaaf, founder of the organization Keep Vava’u Green – based in Salt Lake City, Utah and working to raise awareness on social media about the most pressing environmental issues facing Vava’u today. Three weeks ago, I visited Vava’u to see some of the grassroots environmental projects put on by various community groups. Three months prior, I was informed by sources in Vava’u that shark fins were seen hanging outside the Chinese-owned Neiafu Shopping Centre, however, no pictures were available.
On May 14th during an afternoon walk in Neiafu, I saw – indeed — shark fins hanging outside Neiafu Shopping Centre. Upon inquiry, a staff member told me they were acquired from local fishermen and divers. I took photos and recorded a clip with my camera phone before going inside the shop to ask for more information. A Chinese female cashier told me the store owner’s name was Siaki Wong and gave me his phone number. I later called many times unsuccessfully – each to a busy tone.
Shark finning is a cruel practice of cutting off the fins of live shark before throwing them back into the ocean. Many times a shark cannot swim normally afterwards and will often get eaten by predators. Shark fins are used to make an expensive soup popular in China and Asian cuisine – this practice is contributing to the dwindling of the numbers of shark species worldwide.
A few days later, I reported the shark fins sighting to the Vava’u Police in Neiafu and was referred to the Ministry of Fisheries near the wharf. ‘Otenili Fisi’ikava at Fisheries told me there was currently a law in Tonga against shark finning but that it would be better if I phoned the main Fisheries office in Tongatapu.
I didn’t get a chance to call the Tongatapu office until I arrived back in Utah. When I did, Poasi told me Tonga doesn’t directly have a law against shark finning but that there were regulations in place regarding the amount of allowable tuna bycatch from long line fishing. Sharks are many times included in Tuna bycatch. The other protection measure for sharks would be under CITES regulations which currently prohibits the trade of two kinds of sharks – the Ocean White Tip and the Hammerhead.
Poasi said that although Tonga doesn’t directly have a law protecting sharks, the Fisheries Ministry is working with the Forum Fisheries Agency in the Solomon Islands on some measures of protection for sharks. In regards to the shark fins hanging outside Neiafu Shopping Centre, Poasi said they would need a license if they were selling it commercially or exporting them. However, using the shark fins for personal consumption would be okay, he said. And that is the current dilemma – we don’t know what the shark fins are being used for and what methods were used to obtain them from sea. Here’s hoping Tonga quickly works on getting specific laws in place prohibiting the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning.