Amendment to protect sharks signed into law
Guardian Staff Reporter
Published: Jul 06, 2011
An increase in the global demand for shark meat has prompted government officials to regulate the multi-million-dollar industry for the first time in Bahamian history.
Government officials yesterday signed into law an amendment aimed at protecting sharks that populate the more than 200,000 miles of Bahamian waters.
The Bahamas has long been considered one of the premier shark-watching destinations for divers.
According to statistics compiled by the Bahamas Diving Association, over the past two decades shark-related tourism has contributed more than $800 million to the Bahamian economy.
Yesterday morning an amendment was made to the Fisheries Resources Act that will now prohibit all commercial shark fishing in The Bahamas.
Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister Larry Cartwright said the new provision will permanently protect more than 40 species of shark in Bahamian waters.
“The Bahamas government has determined to enhance the protection extended to sharks found in Bahamian waters,” Cartwright said while speaking at the signing ceremony at the British Colonial Hilton yesterday morning. “This is in keeping with the government’s commitment to pursue appropriate conservation measures and strategies in order to safeguard marine and terrestrial environment. This also responds to concerns expressed by citizens and by local, international and non-governmental organizations to the Government of The Bahamas, calling for strengthened protection of sharks in The Bahamas.
“As we are all aware sharks are heavily fished in many of the world’s oceans and there is concern in many quarters that the current level of fishing including an increased level of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing cannot be sustained and will lead to the collapse of many shark stocks if we permit it.”
Under the 2011 amendment, commercial shark fishing as well as the import, export and sale of shark products are now prohibited.
But the amendment does allow for the recreational catch and release of sharks and the incidental catch and release of sharks by Bahamian citizens, assuming the subsequent sharks or shark products are not sold.
Cartwright said while the amendment took affect yesterday, it still has to be tabled in the House of Assembly.
Since 1993, Department of Fisheries officials have prohibited long line fishing – a move they insist helped maintain the region’s healthy shark population.
“The Bahamas’ prohibition on longline fishing gear 20 years ago protected the marine resources of The Bahamas and ensured that our shark populations would remain healthy,” said Eric Carey, executive director of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT).
“But there were no specific laws in The Bahamas for sharks, the crown jewels of ocean health. The new regulations will ensure that sharks can continue to thrive for generations in our waters, one of the world’s best places to see sharks.”
The effort to bring about shark regulations started last fall after a local seafood company expressed interest in the catching of sharks to meet the global demand for shark fin soup.
A collaboration between the PEW Environment Group and the BNT produced popular public service announcements and a petition that garnered more than 5,000 supporters.
Jill Hepp, manager of global shark conservation for the PEW Environment Group, said “[Tuesday’s] announcement permanently protects shark species in Bahamian waters. We applaud the people and Government of The Bahamas for being bold leaders in marine conservation.”
With the amendment, The Bahamas now joins Palau, the Maldives and Honduras in banning the commercial fishing of sharks.
It is estimated that commercial shark fishers kill up to 73 million sharks annually, mainly for their fins.