By ERWIN MASCARIÑAS
ENVIRONMENTALISTS yesterday raised concerns over the slaughter of a megamouth shark by villagers in a coastal community in Cagayan de Oro last week even as they called on the local government to do something to prevent its repeat.
The concerns were raised by various groups that question the impunity and lack of education of people who kill megamouth sharks and other marine species that are supposed to be protected.
“While not all species of sharks are protected in the Philippines, it is important that their population and catch are monitored because they are the top predators in the marine ecosystem, and they indicate health of the ocean,” said Mar Guidote, director for external and government relations of Oceana Philippines.
Guidote said the local government of Cagayan de Oro should consider following the example of the province of Cebu that prohibits the catch, transport and trade of sharks and their derivatives.
“The more important thing is that their population and catch are monitored so government can develop better management programs,” he said.
Guidote noted that the Philippines has the “National Plan of Action for Sharks and Rays,” and that one of the gaps of the plan is the insufficient data on sharks bycatch.
“What is needed is a systematic catch documentation and traceability mechanisms that will be basis for management,” said Guidote.
He said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is mandated by law to have a catch documentation and traceability scheme.
AA Yaptinchay, founder and executive director of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, said that while megamouth sharks could live long but given their slow reproductive rate, catching or killing them would negatively impact on the population of the species.
Yaptinchay said the Philippines has the second highest record of megamouth shark sightings in the world, at 26, next to Taiwan’s 54.
Most of the Philippine sightings are in northern Mindanao, and so, Yaptinchay said “we are guessing it is an important habitat for the species.”
Yaptinchay said government and non-government organizations should start or step up an awareness campaign on megamouth sharks in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental, and teach fisherfolk and people in coastal communities how to help in protecting the species.
Carl Ceasar Rebuta, executive director of the Environmental Advocates Resource Team Hub Philippines (Earth Ph), said slaughtering endangered species like the megamouth shark is a violation of the Wildlife Act and Fisheries Code.
Rebuta said violators should really be dealt with and penalized.
Communities, he said, should mobilize and make use of their respective “Bantay Dagat” groups so they could monitor abuses.
Guidote said many experts agree that sharks never recovered from “bad publicity” since the movie “Jaws” became a blockbuster in the ’70s.
He said sharks “suffer bad publicity and fake news” all the time although there are more people dying from merely walking in the street than from shark bites.
Guidote said many other movies here and abroad have demonized sharks.
“The problem is that sharks in general are not as charismatic as their cousins so it is hard to promote their regulation. The national government must develop ways of explaining to the general public the role of sharks in the ecosystem,” he said.