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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Galapagos shark endangered by Ecuadoran decree: group

From, July 23, 2007

President Rafael Correa's decree legalizing the sale of shark fins caught by accidental fishing has put the Galapagos shark in peril of extinction, environmentalist groups warned Monday in Ecuador.

Prized as an aphrodisiac and gourmet delicacy in Asia, shark fins had been illegally harvested until Correa's decree, which he said will directly benefit 200,000 Ecuadoran fishermen and their families.

The presidential decree lifts a ban on the sale and export of shark fins caught accidentally outside Galapagos territorial waters. Deliberate fishing for shark fins is still prohibited.

"In theory, any type of fishing is banned in Galapagos, but it's difficult to monitor which species are caught and now, the decree could lead to more illegal fishing in the area," Ecological Action project coordinator Ricardo Buitron told AFP.

He said the measure will likely entice fishermen to Galapagos for shark fins they would sell elsewhere in Ecuador claiming they were caught accidentally outside the archipelago's restricted waters.

Buitron said Correa's decision "will increase the danger of extinction of the (Galapagos shark) species" since authorities will have a hard time "determining which fins have been caught in compliance with regulations."

But for External Relations Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa, the new measure "will help make the marketing of shark fins more transparent, stop the black market and establish efficient control methods."

"Profits from the sale of shark fins," she told Teleamazonas TV channel, "will go directly to the fishermen ... and not to the pockets of middlemen and smugglers."

Shark fins fetch 50 dollars apiece on the black market, compared to the croaker, an expensive fish that sells at seven dollars a kilogram (2.2 pounds) in Ecuador.

The Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean last month were put on a list of endangered world heritage sites by the UN's culture organisation, UNESCO, because of the growing pressure from tourism.

Situated 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, the 19 islands have a unique wildlife and were the first ever site to be placed on UNESCO's regular list of World Heritage Sites in 1978.

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