The government of the Marshall Islands has passed new legislation this week making shark fishing illegal within the entirety of its two million sq km, (750,000 sq miles) territorial waters, effectively making them the world's largest shark sanctuary.
The new law is a complete prohibition of commercial fishing of sharks and the trade in shark products and includes a clause that requires fishermen to release any sharks caught accidentally.
Large fines of up to US $200,000 can be imposed on anyone found in breach of the regulations which also ban the use of long line fishing and wire leaders, both of which are used to deadly effect against sharks.
In addition to these fines anyone caught with shark products in their possession will also be fined their market value. To help enforcement and monitoring the new law bans transfer of fish at sea and stipulates that all fishing vessels land their catch at one of the country's ports.
The Marshall Islands archipelago is home to 68,000 people and tourism, especially leisure diving, is an important factor in their economy.
It is hoped the sanctuary will spur other Pacific nations to join together and create the proposed Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary, which would be the first regional shark conservation agreement of its kind.
Senator Tony deBrum, who helped push the bill through, said: "In passing this bill, there is no greater statement we can make about the importance of sharks to our culture, environment and economy. Ours may be a small island nation, but our waters are now the biggest place sharks are protected. We hope other Micronesian leaders will join with us to make good on our collective promise of a regional sanctuary".
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