THERE is a celebration of machoism and cruelty when a shark is landed alive on the deck of a tuna fishing boat.
Kaiafa Ledua, a former shark fisherman who has become an advocate for shark protection, said killing the shark as it thrashed about on the deck brought out the worst in a person at sea.
"In hindsight now, all that frenzy around that shark is actually very cruel. We'd cheer and shout as we'd stab the animal in its side," said Mr Ledua, who became a shark advocate while on the Uto Ni Yalo's epic voyages.
Mr Ledua said as far as fishermen on tuna boats were concerned, sharks were a targeted fisheries, not a bycatch as tuna boat operators claim.
He said the Chinese boat operators he used to work for would offer A-grade tuna meant for export as shark bait.
"The more sharks you caught, the ace fisherman you'd become in their eyes, the more money we took home. What we earned from shark fins was triple what we took home as wages.
"If you dropped a shark, you'd be put off a boat.
"When you land a shark, you're a hero. Us Fijian fishermen would get sucked into this killing frenzy and get psyched up for the next kill. When I look back now with my better understanding of sharks, it is a painful memory. Such cruelty."
Mr Ledua now tells anyone who'd listen that the world depends on this ancient predator whose population in Fiji is fast being threatened by overfishing.
He said about 50 per cent of the world's oxygen was created by phytoplankton, tiny organisms that produces chlorophyll, in the ocean.
Those same phytoplankton, he added, are also absorbing a lot of the carbon dioxide that "we are emitting into the atmosphere".
"Sharks feed on fish that eat the plankton and keep the organisms' numbers high, allowing them to contribute to our oxygen supply*."
Without sharks to act as population control, Mr Ledua said the plankton-eating species would deplete "this resource".
He said while sharks were important for this reason, they were worth more alive than dead.
"Our tourists come here for our healthy ocean. Why would they come if we kill all our sharks and destroy our marine ecosystem."
Published in the Fiji Times on July 1, 2013.
*This statement is false. There are no links between sharks and oxygen.