Paul Hastings LLP, a leading global law firm, announced today that it has advised the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative (PICI) in a pro-bono effort to establish regulations that create a shark sanctuary in the Cook Islands. The regulations prohibit certain commercial fishing activities within the Cook Island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—an area of ocean approximately 1.9 million square kilometers (756,000 square miles) in size—that threaten sharks, and ban the possession, sale, and trade of shark and shark products. This newly established protected area neighbors the shark sanctuary recently announced by Tahiti Nui (French Polynesia), and will connect with the EEZs of American Samoa and Tokelau to create the largest contiguous shark conservation area in the world—an area over 6.7 million square kilometers (2.6 million square miles) in size.

On December 12, 2012, the Honorable Teina Bishop, the Cook Islands’s Minister of Marine Resources, announced this development in Parliament. The Queen’s Representative is expected to sign the regulations in Executive Council before the end of this year. Paul Hastings Environmental and Energy attorney Michael Balsterrepresented PICI in preparing the shark conservation regulations proposed to the Ministry of Marine Resources. “Increasingly, the international community is adopting measures to protect sharks from unsustainable commercial fishing practices that threaten their very survival,” says Balster. “It has been very rewarding to represent PICI in its work with the Cook Islands government and community to address this critical issue.”

Shark finning has become the leading cause of shark mortality in recent decades as a result of increased demand for shark fins for shark fin soup. In addition, sharks are often caught incidentally as bycatch, particularly from longline fisheries targeting tuna and swordfish. “The hope is that these regulations will reduce shark mortality in the region and increase the chance of survival of those sharks caught as bycatch,” says Balster.

The Cook Islands are a self-governing nation in free association with New Zealand. The island nation also joins the Marshall Islands, Northern Marianas, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, the Maldives, the Bahamas, Honduras, Guam, and the State of Hawaii in adopting measures to protect sharks and to establish shark sanctuaries.


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