Environmental groups spar over Pacific trade deal's shark protections

By David Lawder MONTEREY, Calif. (Reuters) - Two influential environmental organizations squared off on Wednesday over protection for sharks in a new Pacific trade pact after the top U.S. trade official touted the pact's environmental benefits. The Monterey Bay Aquarium endorsed provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aimed at deterring the hunting of sharks for their fins, while the Sierra Club labeled the pact a "shark-killing trade deal". On visit to the aquarium, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the deal "delivers unprecedented and fully enforceable environmental protections," including those for oceans and marine life. But his remarks drew a quick rebuke from the Sierra Club. "The TPP would actually pose serious threats to one of our ocean's greatest treasures, sharks," said Ilaina Solomon, the Sierra Club's responsible trade program director, in a statement. "The TPP not only fails to meaningfully address the problem of shark fin trading, but it could actually lead to the slaughter of more sharks," she said. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, which oversees a large marine sanctuary and carries out extensive oceanographic research, believes that if implemented properly, the deal would improve protections for sharks, said Margaret Spring, the facility's vice president for conservation and science. "We are encouraged that the Trans-Pacific Partnership sets a new bar for ocean conservation measures in a trade agreement by including specific provisions to encourage sustainable fisheries management, fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, protect sharks and other key marine species, and eliminate harmful fishing subsidies," Spring said. The agreement requires each of the 12 TPP countries, including Vietnam and Malaysia, to promote and enforce the long-term conservation of sharks, marine turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals. However, the Sierra Club, a longtime opponent of the trade deal, argues that the pact contains loopholes that will allow continued finning of sharks by member countries. It also says that the agreement will cut duties on shark fin products in Vietnam and Malaysia, which will increase demand by lowering prices. Congress must approve the trade deal for it to be implemented, but it remains unclear whether a vote will be scheduled this year. (Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Richard Pullin)