Sunday, June 6

Article Repost from California Coast & Ocean

Tracking Shark Mysteries
Maybe we'll learn to appreciate them in time to save them
by Anne Canright

Last April, Gary Adkison, manager of the U.S. branch of the Swiss-based Shark Foundation, got an anonymous call telling him of a shark-fishing tournament to be held in early June in Fort Myers, Florida. The caller was distressed; this was an annual event he thought was no longer acceptable, but he said he could not speak out in public.

Adkison sent an appeal to his worldwide e-mail list of shark supporters, and within a day tournament sponsors and city officials were flooded with protest calls and mail. He and his allies then contacted the local chamber of commerce and other sponsors of Shark Fest 2009, a two-day event with a street fair, boat show, and children’s fishing derby, as well as the shark tournament. They suggested an alternative: a catch-and-release tournament, captured on streaming video that could be viewed on a large screen by the public.

On May 20 the local Beach Observer reported that "due to an overall dissatisfaction and a misinformed general public about the killing of sharks," the rules of the June 6-7 tournament would change: it would be catch-and-release. Five sharks would be tagged in advance, and a $10,000 prize would be awarded to anyone who caught one of these.

Adkison was jubilant as he told the story. Sure, he said, it would have been better to have no shark tournament at all, but this was a big step toward the larger goal of shark protection worldwide. "Word is getting out that the sharks are in trouble," he observed.

Whether that information will help save these awesome ocean predators from extinction remains to be seen. Sharks have plied Earth’s waters since before the dinosaurs, but now their survival is threatened by human actions.

Within the past 50 years, populations of some large shark species have declined by 80 to 90 percent, said Andy Nosal, a doctoral student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Actual numbers are hard to come by and most are from the Atlantic Ocean, where fisheries have been better monitored than in the larger Pacific. "Asian nations don’t monitor catches and kills as Europeans and Americans do," said Adkison. Yet as Nosal pointed out, "a decline in one area affects the whole world," because some sharks travel great distances. A basking shark might swim from the Atlantic around Africa to the Indian Ocean or around South America to the Pacific, for example.

The numbers of large sharks such as scalloped hammerhead, great white, and thresher--apex predators all--in the North Atlantic declined by 79 to 89 percent between 1986 and 2000, according to a report by Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, published in Science in 2003. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed some lesser-known species as critically endangered and others, including the great white shark and longfin mako, as vulnerable.

The main culprits are longline fishers going after tuna and swordfish and snagging sharks as bycatch, and European fishers capitalizing on the growing popularity of shark meat worldwide. Shark finning is a third--and increasingly destructive--practice that is affecting shark populations worldwide. Nosal considers finning the greatest threat now, with overfishing close behind. As other species are overfished and no longer available, he said, shark meat provides an inexpensive alternative.

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