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Sharks to get more protection under proposed legislation

A tiger shark, which will be protected under new laws (Photograph supplied)

It will be illegal to fish all but three species of shark under legislation being drafted, the Ministry of Home Affairs has revealed.

A ministry spokesman said that commercial fishermen would be allowed to catch Galapagos and smooth dogfish, the two species which are fished in the highest numbers in Bermuda, and six-gill sharks.

But licences for the sharks exempted from the proposed ban will have conditions, including limits on catches.

Fisheries department figures showed that Galapagos and smooth dogfish had a combined catch of 5,151 sharks between 2010 and 2020.

The department’s statistics are compiled from fishermen’s reports.

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, told The Royal Gazette last week that legislative measures were being drafted to ban fishing for some shark species, including tiger and mako.

But Choy Aming of the Bermuda Shark Project said that his research had found that Galapagos sharks were the most vulnerable species in Bermuda.

Mr Aming, who has researched sharks for 15 years, said that Galapagos sharks used the Bermuda platform as a home base, which made them more vulnerable than migratory species like the tiger shark.

He added: “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 behaviour overall.

“The deeper water species such as six-gill and spiny dogfish – the same species as a smooth 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.”

A spokesman for the ministry said the legislation would cut the annual catch of sharks and that recreational shark fishing would not be allowed.

The ministry spokesman added that shark species were selected for protection based on their status on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species.

He added: “However, Bermuda is also signed up to international agreements such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and the convention on international trade in endangered species that have taken measures to protect certain types of sharks, thus obligating Bermuda to protect these species as well.”

He said the exemptions on Galapagos, gummy and six-gill catches were made “for cultural reasons”.

The spokesman added: “It should be noted that the Galapagos shark is listed as being of ‘least concern’ by the IUCN and smooth dogfish and six-gill sharks are listed as ‘near threatened’, along with tiger sharks and blue sharks.”

He said: “It is important to note that despite Bermuda’s low take of sharks, we must co-operate with other countries around the region to protect sharks as many species are not only endangered but also migrate throughout the Atlantic Ocean.

“Indeed, Bermuda is a signatory to a special memorandum of understanding on the conservation of migratory sharks that is part of the convention on the conservation of migratory species of wild animals.”

The biggest annual catch of the Galapagos shark since 2010 was in 2012 when 242 were landed.

There were 80 caught last year and 1,859 from 2010 to 2020.

The most caught shark in Bermuda is the smooth dogfish with 3,292 landed between 2010 and 2020.

In comparison, there were 104 tiger sharks landed between 2010 and 2020, 71 mako, 29 blue sharks and 235 of other species.

No figure was given for six-gill sharks whose tend to live in deeper waters.

The ministry spokesman said: “Fishermen have self-reported their catch since the fisheries’ statistical programme began in 1972.

“Fishermen land fish at docks all over the island and operate 24/7 so there is no practical alternative to collecting this data.

“However, Government is looking at ways to better validate the data. This is a challenge for fisheries worldwide.”

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Published November 05, 2021 at 7:54 am (Updated November 05, 2021 at 7:48 am)

Sharks to get more protection under proposed legislation

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