On Wednesday January 29th, pictures of a dead bull shark were seen on a vessel belonging to Strike Force Belize, owned by Rudy Lewis. Several pictures posted on the company's Facebook page showed the catch of the day, including the shark, and next to the catch were Lewis and other local islanders.
While shark populations have seen a drastic decline due to unregulated overfishing and lack of proper management, bull sharks are not considered an endangered species (as is the case of nurse sharks and the globally threatened hammer head sharks). Nonetheless, only holders of special shark fishing licenses are legally able to fish for shark in Belize. Up to date, only 42 people are allowed to fish for sharks during open shark season, which runs from November 1st to July 31st. According to The Belize Fisheries Department, who approves and grants shark fishing licenses, Strike Force Belize/ Rudy Lewis does not hold such a license.
"We received a report and we carried out an investigation with the assistance of our agencies. What we are able to ascertain is that a group of folks were out fishing and caught the shark. They tried to release the shark, however in the process of unhooking the shark, the animal received a serious wound that compromised its life. Instead of leaving the injured shark to die out at sea, they decided to bring in the shark, clean the meat and donate the carcass to a feeding program at one of the schools on the island," said Hampton Gamboa from the Conservation Compliance Unit at the Fisheries Department.
According to Lewis, Strike Force Belize does not engage in shark fishing and on the day in question, they were out "deep drop fishing" for grouper and snapper. Lewis said that while out fishing two sharks hit their bait and while they managed to unhook one safely and was released, they were not as fortunate with the other one. Lewis claim that by the time the shark was pulled onboard, it was dead from the injuries received as the hook went deep inside the shark. "We wanted to make the best from an unfortunate incident and instead of leaving the shark to sink to the bottom of the sea we decided to bring it in for the feeding program. We knew that hundreds of children could do well with the shark. We deeply regret how it turned out and the repercussions," said Lewis.
Principal of Holy Cross Anglican School Grace Williams confirmed that indeed the school received over 150 pounds of shark flesh for the feeding program. "He did a genuine gesture and donated the fish to us. When he visited the school earlier this year, we took him to see the feeding program and he noticed the challenges and offered to donate fish from time to time, which to us, is very helpful," said Williams.
Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the San Pedro Sun