Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri has filed a bill seeking to prohibit all trade in sharks and rays, both of which are being threatened by unchecked overfishing, including bycatching.
Senate Bill 1245 proposes to forbid “the catching, sale, purchase, possession, transportation, and exportation of all sharks and rays or any part” of the animals all over the country.
“No effort must be spared to protect the biodiversity of our waters as well as the natural balance of our marine ecosystem, for the enjoyment and economic benefit of future generations of Filipinos,” Zubiri said.
The proposed Sharks and Rays Conservation Act seeks to impose penalties of up to 12 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to P1 million, or both to violators, including those who “inflict injury on sharks and rays.”
The country has at least 60 species of sharks and 32 species of rays, according to the Marine Wild Fauna Watch of the Philippines Inc.
The most celebrated Philippine shark is the butanding, or whale shark, a slow-moving filter-feeding animal regarded as the largest fish in the sea, measuring 40 feet or longer. The butanding is featured on the reverse of the P100 bill.
Marine scientists believe that whale sharks may actually have breeding grounds, not just feeding areas, in the country. This was bolstered by the discovery of the smallest living specimen of the whale shark—measuring only 38 centimeters—at a beach in Pilar, Sorsogon.
The shark population has been under severe pressure in recent years, as the numbers killed have climbed due to demand driven by the fin soup trade in Hong Kong and China.
The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization estimates at almost $1 billion the value of global trade in shark commodities alone.
Meanwhile, manta and mobula rays are also at grave risk due to soaring demand for their gills, which are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Zubiri’s bill mandates the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, in coordination with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to issue the requisite orders to categorize all sharks and rays as endangered species.
It likewise compels the Department of Tourism and the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving to provide the necessary assistance to the BFAR, DENR, and local government units in identifying the habitats of sharks and rays so these may be declared as protected areas.
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