Rare Species of Hammerhead Shark Dies In Gill Net Near Hopkins
The drowning of a rarely seen Scalloped Hammerhead Shark in Southern Belize has brought into sharp focus the use of gillnets at sea. For years, fishermen have been calling for a ban and a few years ago, OCEANA joined in the call, but there was no progress. Gillnets are classified as legal fishing gears in Belize, but the number of fishermen using gillnets is not known. OCEANA took up the issue again after an eight-foot hammerhead was trapped and died in a gillnet over the weekend. The organization believes that the lack of monitoring and enforcement have added to the impacts on fish stock. This recent incident highlights the need for a ban on gillnet, says OCEANA Vice-President, Janelle Chanona. Andrea Polanco has the story.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
This is a Scalloped Hammerhead Shark which died after it was caught in a gill net in Hopkins waters. Villagers reported that the shark was spotted circling in the shallow waters before it was caught. The photos, which were uploaded to facebook on Sunday, caught the attention of conservationists.
Janelle Chanona, V.P., OCEANA Belize
“We contacted the person that posted the photos and according to him, an eight-foot Scalloped Hammerhead was landed by a fisherman from Hopkins in a gill net, just by the north side of Hopkins Village in very shallow water. By the time he hauled up the net, the shark had already drowned. He brought the animal to shore and that was how the photos were taken.”
In Belize, the variety of marine life has always been touted as a tourism attraction, particularly for divers. But marine life, like the Scalloped Hammerhead, does not enjoy protected status in Belize; although across the world it is already listed as endangered going into extinction. Within the last couple decades the population of this specie has been on the decline. Here at home, many divers now say that it is a rare treat to see a Scalloped Hammerhead. For sharks like the hammerhead to die as a result of the gillnet, it is simply unacceptable especially considering that the move to put a ban on gillnet, called for by fishermen, has been on the table for over a decade.
“Well, the death of the Scalloped Hammerhead definitely highlights the need for a gill net ban, Andrea. All over the world, we are seeing where sustainable managed type of fisheries is moving away from this type of gear because it has high by-catch rates. It’s not just sharks; its turtles; dolphins; manatees. We’ve seen the regional extinction because of gillnets. We certainly believe that this incident highlights the need for a call made by fishermen. The OCEANA Belize campaign started in 2009, but we have documents dating back to 1997, where fishermen have been writing regulators saying please ban this gear and the effects of this ban and it is still an issue we are dealing with eighteen years later.”
“Why do you, OCEANA that is, and the fishermen are still unable to get this ban in place. What’s taking so long?”
“Andrea, that is the sixty-four thousand dollar question because everybody is asking. Why is this gear still legal? It’s a question to be posed to Fisheries. We don’t know why there is this hesitation in getting this gear banned.”
And while some may ask what’s the significance of one shark? The specie has been around for some four hundred million years. But, as Chanona puts it in context, they may not be around for much longer:
“In our generation, it could be wiped out; extinction. Yes, you are absolutely right, hammerhead in specific within the last thirty years has seen a ninety percent decline in that specie alone. So, you look at this one shark and wonder and pray that this is not the last shark in this area. It is a distinct possibility given what we are seeing in other parts of the world. This has very real implications and it needs to be taken as such.”
OCEANA says it will continue to press for the gill net ban and promote responsible fishing. Reporting for News Five, I am Andrea Polanco.