April 24, 2008 / 7:09 AM / 11 years ago

Taiwan fumes over surprise Greenpeace shark check

TAIPEI, April 24 (Reuters) - Taiwan is drafting a public statement to slam Greenpeace activists who boarded a fishing boat in the South Pacific earlier this week to check for an illegal shark fin harvest, a fisheries official said on Thursday.

The Fisheries Agency will send a protest letter to the multi-lateral Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and to Greenpace, an international environmental group that the government says inappropriately forced its way onto a Taiwan-registered boat on Monday to inspect the shark catch.

"This took place on the high seas, and it was done by a private organisation, not by law enforcement agencies," said James Sha, the agency’s deputy director-general. "Their actions were extreme, and they distorted the evidence."

Actvists on the Greenpeace ship Esperanza obtained the Taiwan crew’s permission to board the ship in waters east of the Solomon Islands and found about 110 kilos of shark fins, Greenpeace oceans campaigner Jason Collins said.

The amount of separated shark fins probably exceeded a legal weight limit, Collins said.

Although shark catches are legal, the 25-member-state fishing commission restricts the weight of severed fins per boat to ensure that live finless sharks are not being thrown back.

"Then they just sink to the bottom and die," Collins said.

Shark fin soup is an expensive delicacy in southern China and in Chinese restaurants in other countries.

More than 100 shark species are being "commercially exploited", casting doubt on the long-term survival of some, according to the Switzerland-based Shark Foundation.

There is no evidence that the Taiwan boat in question broke any laws, Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency says.

The Esperanza, which is known for confronting Japanese whaling ships to protest hauls of the giant mammals, is scouring several tracts of the high seas northeast of Australia this year to check for shark violations, Collins said.

Greenpeace searched the same waters in 2004 and 2006, he said. He said the group would urge the commission to approve a broader fishing ban in the region.

(Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Valerie Lee)

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