A new ban has been set in place by The Fisheries Agency in Taipei to protect three giant shark species from being accidentally caught by fishing vessels off the coast of Taiwan. The change follows a recent surge in incidental catches of megamouth sharks, with great whites and basking sharks also being protected by the changes. The move hopes to preserve the biological diversity of shark species in the region by forcing fishing boats to release any bycatch sharks – regardless of whether they are dead or alive – and removing any possible profitable gain from the accidental capture of these animals.
A similar ban had already been put in place to prohibit the accidental catch and sale of whale sharks in 2008 and giant manta rays in 2018. Earlier this month, it was reported that six megamouth sharks had been caught by four fishing boats in four days which were then sold on. An unnamed fishing operator acknowledged in a statement that megamouth sharks are mostly still living when discovered caught up in fishing nets, and yet before now all caught specimens entered into Taiwan's mandatory reporting system were recorded as dead by the operator. These incredibly rare oceanic giants go for a pretty penny as a coveted ingredient for traditional medicines, with specimens bringing in up to $180,000 depending on their size.
Great white sharks are another vulnerable species associated with bycatch in the area, as well as basking sharks which are endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The only exception for the capture of these sharks will be for scientific research with all projects requiring approval from the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture before fishing efforts can begin.
The ban comes as welcome news to the Taipei-based nonprofit and nongovernmental Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST), which was instrumental in pushing for greater protection for megamouth sharks, one of the most rarely seen sharks in existence. Since their initial discovery in 1976, only 226 have been recorded around the world, over half of which were caught in Taiwan.
"I am thrilled to see fisheries and conservation groups working together to promote the conservation of rare marine life and scientific research," said Fisheries Agency Director-General Chang Chih-sheng in a statement. "The protection of genetic diversity and marine biodiversity is not only the concern of conservation groups, but a key contributor to sustainable fishery development."