By Joe Blasy
The photos were uploaded to the Go Eco Phuket Marine Conservation website, where the resulting comments from divers, animal lovers, and marine conservationists uniformly condemned the act.
To a diver and shark lover, the act was simply abhorrent, a view this diver shares. Several of the comments called for vigilante action, others wanted the shark killer arrested. To add insult to injury, it is believed that the spear hunter is a divemaster working in a local dive shop and sells his catch for profit.
A vocal minority questioned the outrage at the killing of a single shark – after all, humans kill approximately 100 millions sharks a year. That’s 11,000 per hour, or three every second. A fair point. So exactly how important is this issue? It can measured in one of two ways; on it’s morality. and on it’s legality. Lets address both.
Sharks are threatened worldwide, this we know. Specifically the black-tip reef shark; while classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “early threatened”, it is more vulnerable to local overfishing than palagic, or oceanic, sharks due to the fact that reef sharks do not generally range far from their breeding grounds.
In many areas of the world, black-tip reef sharks have become extinct. Liz Ward-Sing, founder of the Shark Guardian Conservation Charity explains:
“We know black-tip reef sharks were once common along the west coast beaches of Phuket because Shark Guardian has interviewed instructors and divemasters that worked in Phuket 20, 30, even 40 years ago. But it is almost unheard of to see one there now. This drastic reduction in black-tip reef shark sightings can only be due to human impact.
We believe more protection is needed.
“For example, the waters around Koh Phi Phi are protected and we still see black-tip reef sharks there regularly, sometimes family groups of 20 or more. It’s an important species, both in terms of ecology of the reef as well as for tourism. Divers will travel a long ways to be able to dive with sharks.
“To see one speared like this, and apparently by a member of the dive industry, well that is very unfortunate. It’s been proven the value of a shark to tourism is several times the few thousand baht this spear-fisher will get for it.”
So what about the legal side? We shared the photos with Niphon Phongsuwan, Inspector General of the Department of Marine Coastal Resources. His response:
“There is no law saying that a foreigner is not allowed to fish in Thai waters if such fishing is for games or consumption. But in the case of commercial fishing, of course, the foreigner has to get permission from the authorised agencies.
However, nobody, no matter whether they are Thai or foreigner, is allowed to fish about 400 species, including sharks which belong to the family Carcharhinidae such as the black tip as listed in the appendix of the law of the Environmental Protected Area-designated covering Phuket governance sea area.”