Controversial shark killings in Belize waters

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 19, No. 9            March 5, 2009

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This picture was snapped in the waters off of Caye Caulker.

Scandalous photographs of the slaughter of nurse sharks have sent shock waves through Belize. Mating nurse sharks nesting in the shallow waters along the shores of Caye Caulker were being filleted in a sailboat, as well as, on board two motorized boats which were resting on the Caribbean waters.

    Caye Caulker tour guide James Rosado from Belize Diving Services saw the Corozal licensed sailboat with what, according to him, appeared to be dolphin carcasses on their boats. Closer looks revealed that what was actually being cut up were nurse sharks. The sailboat was accompanied by two twenty five foot Mexican skiffs, one having a sixty horse powered engine while the other had a forty horse powered engine. These power boats contained what appeared to be gill nets (Gill-nets entangle fish. The nets are comprised of panels of multifilament- or monofilament panels with a stretched mesh size that capture fish by either lodging behind their gill-covers or by entangling their spines) behind them. “Two of the boats were filled with nets and in the middle compartment of the boats, both of them, were filled with sharks, as well. Each boat had maybe about eight people on it and each person had a big mature nurse shark on the boat, just filleting the nurse shark,” commented Rosado.

    Once he realized what was going on, Rosado explains that he asked the men the reason behind the killings. Faced with the question, the men on board the boats explained that that was their means of making a living. “I understand that it’s their living you know and I tried to explain to them, I make my living as well off the sharks as well but we just don’t kill them. We take people to see them everyday and that’s our livelihood that you are killing right there,” he told them. At that moment, Rosado’s girlfriend took out her camera and began snapping photographs. One of the fishermen jumped out of his boat holding a knife in his hand and raised it towards Rosado in a threatening manner. It was then that he and his girlfriend left the area.

    According to San Pedro Tour Guide Association President Billy Leslie, the killing of nurse sharks is not an illegal activity. However, Leslie explains that at this time of the year nurse sharks mate, (the mating season runs from late June to the end of July) and their nature is even more docile. Mating in groups and “as friendly as puppies” makes nurse sharks easy prey for fishermen.

    Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade states that there is a battle for the nurse sharks. On one end sharks are a non-extractive resource which is the use that Rosado and tour guides employ, “the use of sharks to tour guides is where they carry out people to view the sharks and to swim and feed the sharks,” explained Wade. On the other hand, fishermen, “directly extract the sharks for consumption purposes. This fish is very much seasonal. It happens a lot around this time because it’s the Lenten time and there are huge markets for fresh corned shark.”

    Wade reiterates that the killing of sharks is not illegal. Rosado furthermore stated that as of recent the number of nurse sharks in the area has been considerably less. This makes him wonder how long the nurse sharks have been targeted by fishermen. Wade though comments, that because it is mating season, the sharks move from that location.

    Leslie said that at the moment a Statutory Instrument (SI) is being worked on and will move to protect nurse sharks, as well as other fish species. Wade ends, “There is nothing illegal about the activity but what this incident has clearly shown is that there is a need to put into law, management regulations for the shark fishery. We have been working on our national plan of action for sharks and we have a first draft that is now ready to go to public consultation which is really a management regime for the shark fisheries and we’ve also developed some draft legislation coming out of the work and consultations that were carried out that’s looking at putting some restrictions on the shark fishery.”

    As soon as the SI has been formulated, consultations will be carried out in San Pedro and Caye Caulker among other destinations.
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