Sharks are dying every day as a result of fishing, both legal and illegal. Approximately one quarter of elasmobranch species are listed as “vulnerable”, “endangered”, or “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), due to the drastic reductions in their populations. Now, stop and ask yourself, “Would I ever catch a shark?” Your automatic answer is probably “No, of course not!” or “Never, I love sharks”. But, what if you were desperate? What if the only way to feed your family was to catch a shark?
The time has come for us to consider the other, little-discussed side of shark conservation if we want to see real, tangible improvement in conservation efforts. It is easy for us, especially those of us living in North America, to sit back and point the finger at impoverished communities and to order them to stop fishing sharks without actually providing them with the means or knowledge to make feasible changes. This disjointed method of conservation efforts means that everyone loses, especially the poorest along the distribution chain of the shark meat/fin trade – those who work in small-scale fisheries. Artisanal fisheries tend to be family and/or locally-run operations that employ little-to- no technology. They tend to concentrate their efforts near shore and provide fish for local consumption, including their families. In Latin America, these fisheries are a vital source of food and employment for 2 million locals.1 Similarly, the artisanal shark fishery in Baja California Sur represents an important activity for many coastal communities threre. This fishery is carried out with small boats called “pangas”, primarily using gillnets in coastal areas to catch smaller elasmobranch species.2 Larger species are caught in deeper waters with longlines. The fishing trips occur daily due the lack of freezing methods onboard these small vessels. The system is mainly managed by permit holders who own the fishing vessels and equipment.
In a 2017 article, Elena Finkbeiner and colleagues detail an example of how quick and poorly planned conservation action hurt the local community in Baja California, and actually resulted in increased mortality of certain species.3 Under pressure from the international community, a rushed closure of the shark fishery was implemented in Baja, with little to no consideration for enforcement and monitoring, or for the local communities where over 1,000 fishers rely on these fisheries for income. In 2012, Mexico implemented a moratorium on elasmobranch fishing in their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for almost two months during the first summer and three months during the summers following. Beyond just a way of making a living, fishing has strong cultural and social importance in Baja and the individuals who worked in the industry were not consulted about this change. Unsurprisingly, this seasonal closure was poorly planned and executed from the start: it was announced and began immediately at the start of the fishing season, leaving fishers scrambling, as many were taken completely by surprise and had already
1 Sales et al., 2007, Fisheries Research 2 Furlong-Estrada et al., 2017, Fisheries Research 3 Finkbeiner et al., 2017, Aquatic Commons
made significant investments in preparation for the season. Many rushed to alter their gear to target benthic species to even make a living during the season. However, using their altered gear, many valuable shark and ray species were caught as bycatch. These sharks were technically illegal to land during the closure, and therefore needed to be discarded at sea, dead and unused. This frustrated the fishermen, as they were throwing away profitable meat and it did nothing to aid in the conservation of sharks either. Furthermore, during this closure, loggerhead turtles were also being caught in their bottom-set nets in record numbers. As stated in the article: “The dramatic increase in sea turtle bycatch rates and strandings, officially documented by the Mexican government and independent researchers, culminated in a United States’ citation of Mexico for its lack of bycatch management and the threat of trade sanctions, and raised alarm in the international conservation community”.
Artisanal fisheries in Baja California are having a significant impact on local shark populations4 . While the overall intentions of seasonally closing the elasmobranch fishery are noble and worth exploring further, the methods and implementation were rushed and excluded the fishers themselves, who are the ones who pay the daily price of the decisions made by their government. To neglect to include these locals is a mistake all-around because these fishermen have the most to gain from healthy and sustainable shark populations. Many fishermen DO want to ensure that the fishery remains stable and profitable.
Developing effective marine conservation laws can be very difficult due to the high costs associated with enforcement in these areas. One way to reduce these costs and render people more willing to abide by the new laws is to include local artisanal fishermen in the decision making process.5 One recent study surveyed local fishermen from Costa Rica to determine their reactions toward new conservation measures for sharks.6 Their findings speak for themselves: “Overall, 89% of fishermen felt that protecting sharks was important with 97% stating a willingness to support shark conservation. However, support dropped to 67% if they would have to change some of their fishing practices. Almost all fishermen surveyed (93%) were in support of the formation of marine protected areas (MPAs). Although, if MPAs restricted their current fishing practices support dropped to between 6% and 65% depending on the restrictiveness of regulations implemented in the MPA. The majority (86%) of the fishermen surveyed also indicated they would be more likely to support new legislative measures to protect sharks if they were included in the decision making process.”
In future conservation campaigns, a first step is to understand how locals view their impacts on shark populations and their views on conservation efforts. We have a responsibility not to repeat these mistakes. Moving forward:
● We must consider the locals’ knowledge, traditions and culture. Many who work in the fishing industry do not have ability to support themselves in another line of work. Many of these individuals have parents who made a living fishing and this is one of the only marketable skill they possess.
4 Furlong-Estrada et al., 2017, Fisheries Research 5 O’Bryhim et al., 2016, Marine Policy 6 O’Bryhim et al., 2016, Marine Policy
● We must understand their harsh realities, which many of us may not even be able to imagine. Many Mexicans who make a living through small-scale shark fisheries must deal with frequent natural disasters, effects of climate change, poor living conditions, and corruption.
● We must think about the choices these people face daily. For a fisherman, catching and selling a shark could mean putting food on the table that day for his family. It could mean money for medicine, housing, or schooling for their children.
● We must help convince local fisheries to join our efforts, by providing them with real and alternative solutions or conservation plans that cause minimal disruption or financial costs to their current way of life. If the laws do not have support locally, they will be impossible to enforce.
Keeping your own loved ones in mind, again, we ask: would you ever catch a shark? Perhaps the answer is no longer so automatic.
While international NGOs and the public voice are vital for marine species conservation, this advocacy may be doing more harm than good if it neglects to integrate local knowledge, culture, and needs. We require better communication between international conservation efforts, NGOs, and national policy makers that will take into account the realities faced by local communities a.k.a. those who will actually be affected most significantly by these changes.
We at Nakawe Project, other shark conservation NGOs and most who are reading this would love to see the end of shark fishing. But we need to stop instinctively reacting only with our hearts and start thinking about this problem rationally. If we want to see actual change, we must first start talking about the human impacts of ending shark fishing. Change is already in our hearts and minds and now it is in our hands. An ocean without sharks is terrifying. Oceans need sharks and we need sharks.
So let’s start now. Let’s DO something. Keeping the problems discussed above in mind, let’s start the discussion, let’s start planning, let’s reach out and try to establish the real change necessary to achieve the real goal that we all want to see happen in our lifetime – healthy shark populations worldwide. We are not helpless – Here actions you can take right now:
1) Join our team: Visit www.nakaweproject.org and click on Join Us to see how you can get involved.
a) Become a member
b) Become a volunteer (please send resume, contact info (including FB, WhatsApp or Skype details) to our email firstname.lastname@example.org
c) Partner with us: we are always happy to talk with other NGOs or organizationswho have similar goals as we do
2) Join our closed hook campaign: Stay tuned coming soon !
3) Spread the word: If you follow our pages, then you already know more about these issues than most people. Tell your friends, parents, children, relatives, coworkers aboutthe threats shark face and encourage them to join the fight too in any way they can.
4) Donate: If you don’t have enough time to volunteer for us, then consider contributing to our cause financially; we have numerous campaigns being run locally in Latin America and are in the process of completing a documentary – every dollar helps! There are many ways to support us in this way:
a) Direct donations via our payPal : http://www.nakaweproject.org/donate/
b) Buy a support item from one of our collaborators (full list at: http://www.nakaweproject.org/nakawe-support- shop/)
i) KoholaKaiCreative (https://www.etsy.com/shop/KoholaKaiCreative)
ii) Sharquarium (https://society6.com/sharquarium)
iii) Conversation Ocean (https://conversationocean.org/collections/ladies/products/fin-wave- ring)
iv) Thessalonike (https://shopthessalonike.com/collections/all-rings/products/fin- finning-ring- 1)
v) Cape Clasp (https://www.capeclasp.com/products/hammerhead-clasp)
5) Talk To Us: We want to hear your new ideas or potential projects that could help solve
these problems. We are always willing to hear from people around the world and their
Together, we can make a difference. Sales et al., 2007, Fisheries Research
 Furlong-Estrada et al., 2017, Fisheries Research
 Finkbeiner et al., 2017, Aquatic Commons
 Furlong-Estrada et al., 2017, Fisheries Research
 O’Bryhim et al., 2016, Marine Policy
 O’Bryhim et al., 2016, Marine Policy
Art by Tracie Sugo
Photos by Regina Domingo
Meet the Artist TRACIE SUGO : http://www.koholakaicreative.com/about.html Art is a form of communication that doesn’t require translation. It can quickly present a message just by being looked at. By being a part of this project, my hope was to create something that conveys the complexity of the shark fishing problem in Mexico and how it is tied to poverty, people and government. From an outsiders perspective, the shark problem is often focused on in singularity but from an insiders perspective the attitude is more like “how can we care about shark conservation when there are so many other difficulties that surround us?”