Report by Shark Info
Statistics from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) show that
approximately 800,000 tons of sharks are caught and killed worldwide
annually. Only a handful of countries are mainly responsible for this
massacre - such as the U.S., India or Taiwan - but these countries fish
more than 9,000 tons per year and wherever their fishing fleets appear
on the horizon, they leave behind nothing except desolation and empty
This pillaging not only affects the oceans' ecology but also the
many people who since generations have been living off traditional shark
fishing and who now find themselves confronted with a problem which they
have no way of opposing.
Argentina, Brazil, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the
Maldives, Mexico, New Zealand, Pakistan, Portugal, Spain, South Korea,
Sri Lanka, Taiwan, USA
Mexiko: Traditional fishery delivers 80% of Mexico's total catch. More
than this, most fishermen not only depend on the sale of fish, their
main source of food is shark meat. According to a report from WildAid,
this is a problem which not only affects Mexican fishermen but other
countries as well.
A 70% decline in catch has been registered in the remote regions
of Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the reason being longline fishermen who
literally empty the oceans without any concern for the needs of others.
Single regions have laws which forbid such practices, but it is
practically impossible to prevent overfishing because the financial
means needed to control the waters are not available.
A young shark being finned.
Finning is a worldwide practice and is one
of the main reasons for the global decline of shark populations.
© D. Perrine / Shark Foundation
surrounding India are not only plundered by foreign fleets but also by
India's own fleet. In Chennai (Madras) alone two dozen companies export
shark fins mainly to Asian regions such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and
Singapore. But even these traders see their existence threatened by the
constant decrease in shark catches. In an interview with WildAid one
dealer - who processes mainly blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus)
and hammerheads (Sphyrna species) - reported that not too long ago he
could collect three tons of shark fins on one sole trip to twelve local
shark fishing villages, while today he has to make about 300 trips for
the same amount.
Astonishingly enough, while traditional fishery is
about to collapse, the Indian governmental authorities established a
program for the proper industrial processing of shark fins back in 1997
in order to compete better internationally. India is the largest shark
fishing nation of the world, landing more than 130,000 tons annually or
16% of worldwide catches. The Indian Government does not require the
individual shipping companies to provide catch number statistics, nor
does it have any plans to sustainably manage shark populations in its
Kenya: Traditional Mexican and Indian fishermen are not the only ones
affected by decreasing shark populations. The end of traditional
fisheries is inevitable and many people will have to tighten their belts
even more. This is the case in Ngomeni, a fishing village in northern
Kenya where up until recently one night's catch sufficed to nourish an
entire village, with enough shark meat left over to sell to other
villages. After the longliners and trawlers pillaged the area in July
1999, one catch was not even enough to supply the village itself. At
least 20 trawlers were sighted in the immediate area of Ngomeni,
equipped with fishing nets with a mesh size of 3 to 5 cm which is enough
to just about totally clear an entire region of fish. By comparison, the
fishermen of Ngomeni use a mesh size of 20 to 23 cm. One fisherman
stated that in the mid-eighties he could sell approximately 150 kg of
shark meat on a daily basis, while in the mid-nineties it was not more
than 2 kg per day. The Kenyan Government did not sit back idly but
passed a law forbidding foreign trawlers from fishing in a five-mile
zone off the coast, while for longliners the limit was set at 200 miles.
Unfortunately, the fishing fleets did not appear to heed this law, all
the more because the Kenyan Government lacks both money and personnel to
efficiently control their territorial waters and to punish
Witnesses report that during the very sporadic controls
the fishermen in the trawlers trick the controllers by showing them
large-meshed nets. When actually fishing they then switch back to their
finely meshed nets.
The same situation is encountered by another
traditional fishing village in Kenya known as Malindi. Sharks and fish
have to be brought in from Mombasa in order to guarantee the survival of
Congo: In the Congo a general provisional ban on shark fishing was
passed in spring 2001. In a letter to industrial companies and
traditional fishermen, Minister Djombo informed them of this ban and
announced severe fines for anyone who ignored it. The state of the shark
populations in the Congo is extremely alarming, especially due to the
enormously growing interest of Asian countries in sharks fins. Several
traditional fishermen are now thinking about giving up fishing
completely, claiming that the fishing of another species such as
sardines would not pay off.
South Africa: Here most shark populations are probably already so
strongly overfished that the number of individuals necessary to ensure
population maintenance has sunk below the biologically required limit.
This country is considered an important "finning" center. However, a
confidential source revealed that any quantitative statistics from these
regions must be treated skeptically because catch numbers are
deliberately manipulated to evade customs duties and taxes. Each year
South Africa hands out 85 licenses to Japanese longliners and 24
licenses to Taiwanese longliners, giving them the right to fish in their
EEZ or "exclusive economic zone". Although these fishing trawlers must
provide details of their catch in order to have their licenses renewed,
official sources infer that the numbers given do not correspond with the
Maintaining shark populations is imperative if we
want to prevent the breakdown of local ecosystems, a tragedy whose
far-reaching consequences will affect all of the endemic animal groups.
Recent research has shown that such connections can be calculated
through computer simulations. Scientists have developed a computer
program known as ECOSIM which makes it possible to study the various
interconnections which influence an ecosystem over longer periods of
ECOSIM was fed with data from three different existing ecosystems:
a) a shelf region off the coast of Venezuela, b) a coral reef in Hawaii,
and c) a free water zone in the northern Pacific.
The Venezuelan shelf region model showed a population increase in two of
the sharks' most important prey as shark density decreased, followed by
a significant increase of indirectly affected prey.
The Hawaiian model showed a very disheartening picture: After tiger
sharks were removed from the model an immediate increase in reef sharks,
turtles, seabirds, fish which live on the ocean bottom and other species
was registered, while tuna and macakerel populations completely
collapsed. The primary link in this case are the seabirds. Tiger sharks
are one of the few shark species who also feed on seabirds who in turn
prey on young tuna and mackerels. Tuna and mackerel usually eat fish
living on the ocean bottom and are thus responsible for their population
density which obviously strongly increases parallel to any decrease in
the numbers of tuna and mackerel.
The last model in the northern Pacific region also showed comparable
results when the density of shark populations was reduced. Single animal
groups increased dramatically in population while other species slowly
but continually declined.
Recognizing the threat to the many fish and shark populations worldwide,
the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) established a behavioral
code for the sustainable fishing of national fish populations. It
recommends affected countries to establish a management plan for
decimated shark populations in order to give them a chance to recover.
Obviously steps must be taken to stop the overfishing of sharks. It is
the only way to prevent the destruction of even more regions around the
world which for many centuries have depended on traditional fishing.
May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info