Monday, June 27, 2011

The Nassau Guardian: Urgent need for shark protection laws

We would like to commend The Bahamas National Trust for its sustained campaign for laws to conserve the valuable shark population in Bahamian waters.

Due to the ban on longline fishing gear in the 1990s, Bahamian waters are one of the few places in the world with relatively healthy shark populations.

The Bahamas is now one of the premier shark-watching destinations for divers, bringing in an estimated $80 million a year into the national economy.

But even with the ban on longline fishing gear, sharks are still considered at risk in Bahamian waters due to other methods of fishing.

Sharks are also especially vulnerable to overfishing as they are more akin to mammals like whales and dolphins, reaching sexual maturity in their teens, and then only have a few pups at a time.

More than 40 different kinds of sharks can be found in Bahamian waters, including the whale shark, the great hammerhead and even great whites.

There are currently no specific laws in The Bahamas to protect sharks.

The Trust is now working with the internationally-renowned Pew Environment Group to raise awareness. The groups, along with other activists, are pushing for the government to enact specific laws needed to conserve the shark population. The Bahamian government is being urged to establish a shark sanctuary in Bahamian waters. It would be the first such refuge in the Atlantic Ocean, and would protect one of the richest resources in the world’s oceans.

Worldwide, it is reported that up to 73 million sharks are killed every year, primarily for their fins.

The Trust is working to gain permanent protections in all of The Bahamas’ Exclusive Economic Zone, an area encompassing approximately 630,000 square kilometers of ocean. Activists believe that by establishing comprehensive protections for these animals, not only will sharks be permanently safeguarded against other threats, but the health of the marine environment and the economy of The Bahamas will be conserved for generations to come.

Bahamians have a loving fear of sharks. As top predators they help maintain the balance of oceanic food chains despite the overexploitation of fisheries.
The Bahamas must put forth and enact shark conservation legislation before it is too late.

The Asian appetite for shark fin soup, a delicacy served at many of their sacred occasions, is insatiable.

It is not enough for us to publicly discuss and agree that shark fishing is detrimental to our waters and economy.

Passing and enacting legislation provides an enforcement mechanism to hold any person not in adherence subject to the court of law.

The sustained campaign by the Trust and outpouring of public support speaks volumes about the urgency of this matter.

This issue goes far beyond political associations; it is for our country and our children’s country.

Printed in The Nassau Guardian on June 23, 2011

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