Bahamas bans commercial shark fishing

Marine conservationists celebrate following a decision by the government of the Bahamas to prohibit commercial shark fishing in the nation’s waters

Marine conservationists across the world have expressed their approval following a decision by the government of the Bahamas to prohibit commercial shark fishing in the nation’s waters. The law, which was ratified on 5 July by agriculture minister Larry Cartwright in the Bahamian capital of Nassau, will see approximately 240,000 square miles of ocean protected against shark fishing.

The amendment to the Fisheries Resources Act to prohibit commercial shark fishing, along with the sale, importation and export of shark products, has been a victory for the Pew Environment Group and Bahamas National Trust (BNT). The organisations launched a joint campaign in response to the threat of shark fishing just as a major Bahamian seafood company announced plans to catch sharks and export their fins.

In order to highlight the issue, the groups launched a media campaign, which included a petition signed by more than 5,000 Bahamians. International shark activists also arrived in the Bahamas to push the ban: Pierre-Yves Cousteau, son of marine conservation pioneer Jacques Cousteau, marine wildlife artist Guy Harvey and cartoonist Jim Toomey, all showed their support.

“2011 is fast becoming the year of the shark,” said Jill Hepp, manager of global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group. “Today’s announcement permanently protects more than 40 shark species in Bahamian waters. We applaud the people and government of The Bahamas for being bold leaders in marine conservation.”

Eric Carey, executive director of The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) added: “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. But there were no specific laws in the Bahamas for sharks, the crown jewels of ocean health. The new regulations signed by minister Cartwright, ensure that that sharks can continue to thrive for generations in our waters, one of the world’s best places to see sharks.”

The island joins Palau, the Maldives and Honduras in prohibiting commercial shark fishing, a multi-million dollar industry that has led to the estimated killing of 73 million sharks worldwide a year. The demand for shark fin soup, a delicacy in parts of Asia, has been partially blamed for the extent of shark fishing: it is estimated that worldwide, shark populations have declined up to 80%, while 30% have been listed as threatened with extinction. Sharks are particularly vulnerable to exploitation as they produce few offspring over the course of their lifetime, maturing slowly in comparison with other types of marine life.

The new shark sanctuary in the Bahamas is intended to protect the shark population in the area without impacting the Bahamian economy. Deputy prime minister, Brent Symonette, admitted that while there may be a market for shark fishing, “the overriding concern for the environment is far greater.”

Sharks also contribute significantly to tourism in the Bahamas, where holidaymakers and divers contribute $78m a year to the local economy. While black tip, spinner and brown sharks are the most common species in the area, the waters are also home to the infamous tiger and bull shark, which makes the Bahamas a popular destination for cage diving.