Turning the tide of shark decline

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A global movement to ban shark fishing began in Palau in the Pacific and reached the Bahamas early this year and Florida a few months ago. In November 2011, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a measure to ban fishing of tiger sharks and three species of hammerheads in state waters.


Sharks have a serious public-image problem, and not just because of the 1974 best-selling novel and the blockbuster movies it inspired. “Jaws” built upon a deeply ingrained fear. The large predators that prowl the oceans also haunt the deep recesses of our mind and the fear they inspire has justified all sorts of abuse.

These apex predators are more than feared and misunderstood; in recent years they have become increasingly hunted for their fins as the world developed an appetite for shark-fin soup, once a delicacy reserved for emperors. Growing wealth in Asia is feeding a new appetite for shark fins and it has led to abuse and disputes over territorial waters. The reaction has been swift and the movement to protect sharks is spreading.

Scientists are applauding the move. According to an article published by UM’s Rosensthiel School of Athmospheric Science (one of the leading North American oceanographic research institutions), overfishing has resulted in significant declines in shark population worldwide (80 percent decline in the hammerhead shark population in the North Atlantic alone).

Protecting sharks in an area that is known for its healthy eco-tourism makes sense. A recent trip to the Bahamas shows how well the island nation has done with its local population of fine “Bahamian sharks” from impressive Bull Sharks to tame nurse sharks, resting on sandy bottom in a few feet of gin-clear water, which attract a steady stream of visitors.