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May 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 35, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Belize Says Sharks Aren’t Endangered; Maldives Bans Their Killing

from the May, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

James Rosado, a dive guide on Caye Caulker, was fishing with his girlfriend on February 28 near Bajo Caye when they came upon a gory sight: A sailboat covered with blood as several men on board cleaned and gutted approximately 20 nurse sharks. Rosado, 25, also spotted two speedboats a short distance away, which held a fishing net between them that had caught another 10 sharks. As he took photos, one fisherman shouted out a death threat, then put a knife in his mouth and dove into the water in Rosado’s direction.

Rosado sped off to get help from Caye Caulker police and fisheries personnel but nothing came of it. Since the incident, he saw some fishermen from the boat selling shark fillets to island residents and restaurants. He printed his photos on fliers around Caye Caulker, hoping it will generate support for a ban on the commercial fishing of nurse sharks in the area. Rosado takes divers to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley near San Pedro Island, and has seen a “dramatic decline” in the number of sharks in those protected arears over the last year. “If this is allowed to continue, it will ruin the tourism industry,” he told Belizean newspaper Amandala Online. “Soon, if you come to Caye Caulker to see a shark, you might have to go to a restaurant.”

It is not illegal to catch and kill sharks, as no species in Belizean waters is listed as endangered. But shark fishing is big business here, as it is worldwide, for the fins to end up in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup (see details in our March article “Shark Hunt Continues at Cocos Island”). The Belize Audubon Society has been advocating shark protection legislation for several years but says discussions have yet to move from talking points to actual law. According to Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade, the vessel and crew Rosado saw were properly licensed, and they said their catch was only intended for the local market. She says commercial shark fishing is confined to the deeper waters of the south and fishing communities along the coast.

“It is unfair to target the fishermen ... they have not done anything bad,” she told Amandala Online. “It may be unsightly for the tour guides because they see these sharks every day but to the fishermen, this is a good catch. What we need now is a management regime.” Belize’s Fisheries Advisory Board is supposed to meet soon to consider drafting legislation that could include restrictions and special licenses for shark fisheries to prevent unsustainable shark fishing.

Then came some good news in the worldwide fight against shark fishing. In March, the Maldives imposed a total ban on hunting reef sharks, intended to make the country a “shark safe haven.” The measure will ban all reef shark hunting in waters up to 12 miles off the Maldivian coast. Within a year, the government wants to extend the ban to all the country’s territorial waters, paving the way for a complete ban on all shark-product exports. The fisheries ministry will work to find new livelihoods for the shark hunters.

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