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Shark Info   (06-15-2001)



The decline of traditional shark fishing

Shark Info

  Main article:

The decline of traditional shark fishing

Shark Info

  Article 1:

Fishing, fins and the lack of sufficient international controls

Shark Info

  Article 2:

A telephone poll by the nature conservation organizations WildAid and Earthcare in Hong Kong and Taiwan

Shark Info

  Article 3:

Series of shark accidents in Florida: Facts and background

Dr. E. K. Ritter

  Fact Sheet:

Blacktip Shark

Dr. E. K. Ritter

The decline of traditional shark fishing

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 seas.
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.

Countries which catch more than 9,000 tons of sharks annually:

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 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

India: 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.
The oceans 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 territorial waters.

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 transgressors.
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 the village.

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 real amounts.

Computer Simulations

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 time.

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.

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