On June 8th 2013, World Oceans Day, the Sultanate of Brunei proudly declared that the country would champion the sharks by banning all shark and shark products from the country. There would be a six month grace period for vendors to sell old stock, and Jan 1st 2014 saw the ban come into effect. The shark world rejoiced!!
Sadly, as with many laws and bans, the real key is the enforcement. It would appear from images being shared with Sea Shepherd that the enforcement is lacking somewhat. Two weeks ago more than 10 Mako shark pups were seen loaded from the port of Jerudong Beach ready for sale. This week Nadzirah Malek-Webb (Nadz), a Sea Shepherd volunteer based in Brunei, photographed a giant Mobula Ray being landed. One day later images of a 5m+ Tiger shark strapped to a trailer being transported along with a large hammerhead (allegedly a pregnant female) were also photographed in the same location. On Monday 23rd another informant saw a Guitar shark and grilled shark meat on offer in Gadong Fish Market, located in the capital of the country, Bandar Seri Begawan.
Sea Shepherd’s Director for Asia, Gary Stokes, sent a letter to the Fisheries Minister of Brunei and shared with them this information, asking them to act. No response so far. However in the same letter a restaurant identified as to still offering sharks fin soup mysteriously has now removed the items from their website, so indications are that the message is getting through!
An interesting twist to this story is that all the fishermen engaged with the shark fishing are allegedly Indonesians and not from Brunei! Indonesia has a new Fisheries Minister who has made a very loud statement that she will not tolerate foreign illegal fishing in Indonesian waters when she had the Indonesian Navy to blow up three Vietnamese fishing vessels earlier this year. Gary Stokes also sent her a letter congratulating her on her new position and the hardline stance she is taking on IUU fishing, which is in line with our core beliefs. He then asked for her advice for Brunei on how to handle illegal Indonesian shark poachers in Brunei waters. Surprisingly no reply has been heard yet.
Captain Paul Watson has personally offered US$1,000 for any information leading to a conviction of a shark poacher in Brunei. We have had several leads that clearly highlight that these sharks are being targeted and are not by-catch or accidentally caught, as some in Brunei are trying to claim. It would appear that the Fisheries Dept is looking to cover this up and deny any poaching of sharks is occurring in Brunei.
Sea Shepherd will continue to investigate independently and offer assistance to the Brunei Fisheries. They can choose to accept the information and act on it, or keep denying that anything is going on. Meanwhile the marine eco-systems of Brunei will continue to be targeted by the greed of foreign poachers until they do.