Luen Thai Fishing Venture Ltd – a multinational fishing company which operates 14 vessels in the Cook Islands – was penalised last month for violating the Marshall Islands’ ban on shark finning.
The news stems from an incident last February when shark fins and skins from an estimated 50 sharks were discovered on a vessel operated by Marshall Islands Fishing Venture, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Luen Thai.
The find was reportedly made by a regional fisheries surveillance programme after boarding a long liner operated by Marshall Islands Fishing Venture (MIFV).
“We will not re-licence the vessel to fish in Marshall Islands waters,” said director Glen Joseph of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority upon issuing the punishment. “The message we want to get out to anyone operating in Marshall Islands waters is we are serious about the shark ban, and it is the law.”
In late June, president Sam Chou of Luen Thai met with marine resources minister Teina Bishop for discussions on a broad range of topics including plans for expanding operations in the Cooks, fuel prices, taxes, and infrastructure.
Chou, who has been described as a ‘special advisor’ for minister Bishop, was accompanied by Matthew Wang, a senior manager and engineer with China Southern Fishery (Shenzhen) Co. Ltd, which is also a subsidiary of Luen Thai.
Wang’s company is reportedly planning to establish a processing plant and warehouse in Rarotonga.
Last August, Marshall Islands member of parliament Tony deBrum, who has been vocal about shark protection in his country, made references to the Hong Kong-based company during a visit to Rarotonga.
At the time, the politician said Luen Thai put up a “very strong fight” against the Marshalls’ efforts to create a shark sanctuary.
DeBrum said the company considered the ability to fish shark “part of their package in being licensed to fish tuna.”
“(We said), you’re fishing for tuna, you’re not fishing for shark and if you get caught with shark you will be severely penalised... (They) must respect our laws and must abide by our shark sanctuary rules,” said deBrum.
The Marshall Islands banned shark finning in October 2011.
Luen Thai was also the focus of a reported incident from June 2012 when a maritime patrol boat – the HMS Otago - allegedly discovered three tonnes of shark aboard one of the company’s vessels stationed in Cook Islands waters.
Opposition leader Wilkie Rasmussen alleged that the ministry’s response to the claims reeked of a “cover up”.
A 1.9 million square kilometre shark sanctuary was established in the Cook Islands late last year by the government, with broad support including minister Bishop, conservation groups, and the public.
Under the regulations, the retention of any shark is illegal on commercial vessels.
In addition, if a commercial long-line vessel or transhipment vessel is found with any shark part, including fins, it is a prosecutable offence with fines ranging from a minimum of $100,000 to a maximum of $250,000.