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Fishing for some shark species set to be outlawed

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The tiger shark could be on the list of protected species in Bermuda if laws currently under consideration are passed (File photograph)
Choy Aming, shark researcher, tagging a juvenile fitting a shark with a research satellite tag (File photograph)
Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, revealed laws banning shark fishing of certain species are in the making (File photograph)
Delvin Bean, a fisherman and restaurant owner, says few sharks are caught in Bermuda (File photograph)

The catching of some species of shark could soon be outlawed in Bermuda, the minister responsible for the environment has revealed.

Walter Roban, the Minister for Home Affairs and the Deputy Premier, told The Royal Gazette that legislation is currently being drafted.

Mr Roban said: “Despite the image that sharks have as a fierce and unpopular species, they are crucial to the Bermuda environment and the depletion of sharks over the last decade has been frightening and alarming.

“There is now an international rush to protect a number of species of shark that are at risk of being lost. They play a huge role in the biodiversity of our oceans so we are certainly signing up to the international effort.

“We are currently drafting the appropriate legislative measures to make the catching and killing of certain shark species unlawful within our waters.”

Asked what species could be on the protected list, Mr Roban said: “I can mention tiger shark, mako … there are numerous species, some that are predators and some that are not predatory and all of these shark species are of concern to us.”

The news was welcomed by Choy Aming, a founder of the Bermuda Shark Project which is dedicated to local shark research.

“Anything that gets us closer to shark protection is welcome,” he said.

“The Bermuda Shark Project would love to see a complete ban on shark fishing but is very happy to see any steps taken in that direction.”

Whale sharks are currently the only shark species that have protection in Bermuda.

Mr Aming said according to his research, some species found here are more vulnerable than others.

“From our research, Galapagos sharks, locally referred to as duskys, are not migratory and appear to use the Bermuda Platform as a home base, so that makes the population more vulnerable than migratory species like the tiger shark.

“Galapagos sharks are also fished commercially, so this puts pressure on them as well. I think they are the most vulnerable species in Bermuda right now.

“Tiger, mako, and blue sharks are all migratory and there is no specific population in Bermuda, so they are less vulnerable to our behaviours overall.

“The deeper water species such as six gill and spiny dogfish are also vulnerable. They are very hard to study, grow very slowly and do not reproduce in large numbers, so we should err on the side of caution when dealing with them.“

As an apex predator, sharks help to keep a healthy balance of marine life globally by maintaining the structure of the food web.

Mr Aming used as an example locally the way sharks keep turtle numbers in check.

“Sharks eat turtles and will usually patrol sea grass beds looking for turtles. The simple presence of a shark in a sea grass bed keeps turtles from grazing the entire thing down to bare sand,” he said.

Shark populations have been depleted globally and much of the blame is attributed to overfishing. Longline fishing fleets, using thousands of baited hooks to catch tuna and swordfish, pose one of the greatest threats to sharks as they get hooked up as by-catch. Their fins are also considered a delicacy in some Asian countries.

Sharks have a long-established place on the Bermudian menu, with shark hash among the favourites at Cup Match.

Delvin Bean, a fisherman who serves shark on his menu at Lost in the Triangle, Warwick, on a limited basis, said any laws banning shark fishing would be ineffective as the waters are not properly policed.

He added that so few sharks are caught in Bermuda’s waters that the law would have little effect.

“Sharks are not being overfished here,” Mr Bean said. “Why don’t they attack the Japanese and Taiwanese longline boats that are fishing illegally in our waters?

“Even if we did catch shark, no one will know as there is no enforcement in this country.

“I have shark on my menu – I mostly use dogfish – there are thousands of them out there, I use about six to ten a year.

“He [Mr Roban] is trying to make himself look good but it is not going to have an impact.

“Yes people do come here looking for shark on a regular basis. They will be upset about it but many of them voted this government in.”

Mr Aming agreed that Bermuda does not have a huge take on a global fisheries scale but said he has noticed there are fewer in the waters in the 15 years he has been researching them.

However he added: “We are protecting these species for the benefit of our ecosystem and every country that puts in shark protections or conservation measures inspires other countries to do the same.”

Asked whether laws restricting shark fishing in Bermuda could encroach unfairly upon tradition, Mr Aming said: “Not at all. We used to eat turtles, cahows and longtails. We realised they all needed protection and they got it.

“If fishing worldwide continues at the current pace, we can expect global fisheries to collapse by 2048. We are literally in danger of taking all the fish out of the sea after 600 million years of vibrant oceans.”

The Royal Gazette has requested the latest figures on Bermuda’s annual shark catch.

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Published November 01, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated November 01, 2021 at 11:33 am)

Fishing for some shark species set to be outlawed

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