TENDUA - Association for biodiversity conservation

Newsletter n°2

NEWS

The European Shark Week from October 10 to 18, 2009

During European Shark Week 2009 over 300 activities were held by supporters in 15 European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

A huge number of Europeans signed the petition to be submitted to the Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The petition is still open until the end of the year. You will find it online on the TENDUA and Shark alliance websites. Please sign now if you haven’t already:
www.tendua.org

The French actor, film director and diving instructor Luc Besson was among the first to sign the European Shark Week petition. He was joined by large numbers of French divers thanks to the strong support of the FFESSM (Fédération française d’études et de sports sous-marins) and other diving groups who took part in European Shark Week who, throughout the week, signed the petition.


What is Shark Finning?

dead hammerhead shark
dead hammerhead shark
Big hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) whose fins were cut, found dead on the shore in Rangiroa, French Polynesia - © Tendua

Shark finning consists of fishing for sharks and removing their fins, what remains of the now dying shark is thrown back into the sea. Without fins to swim and thus starved of oxygen, and severe loss of blood, the shark eventually dies.

This practice is not only cruel, but is extremely wasteful as only 3 to 5 % of the mass of the shark is used. Indeed, the body of the shark contains a high rate of urea that contributes to contamination of other fishes; a separate storage would thus be necessary to avoid poisoning other fishes by urea, and the fishermen consider it is not profitable to keep the whole sharks.

The fishing in itself is not very expensive and 500g of fins can be sold $200. Only these are exploited, leading to real massacres of the shark population and putting this ecosystem in danger.

Finning is probably the most significant cause in the decline of the world shark population. It caused the United States in 2000 to legislate to forbid this practice in American waters. Europe followed in 2003 with similar legislation. However dispensations are granted to the fishermen and although France did not ask for any dispensations, Spain has allowed dispensations for around 200 fishing boats.

Throughout the world poachers practise shark finning and a mafia dealing in shark fins now exists, handling money second only to the drug underworld …


What threats are there to sharks?

Oceanic shark or Carcharhinus longimanus, accompanied with pilot fish (Naucrates ductor) in the Red Sea
Oceanic shark or Carcharhinus longimanus, accompanied with pilot fish (Naucrates ductor) in the Red Sea
© M. Dupuis

Fishing with long lines – gigantic fishing lines, sometimes several kilometres long, with baited fishhooks approximately every 3 metres, are unwound following the boats which let them drift in the sea before returning to raise them. It is today forbidden in numerous countries but still practised by poachers, and drift nets - wide and long straight one piece nets which are left temporarily drifting in the ocean by the fishermen - are responsible for real massacres to many species. Up to 300,000 cetaceans – dolphins, porpoises, etc - are killed every year by drift nets.

As for the sharks, they are systematically caught because they are attracted by prey already caught in nets or hanging on fishhooks.

The sharks are definitely not the ‘super-predators’, eager for blood and slaughter, as is the commonly held belief. Between 1990 and 2005, 869 cases of shark attacks were registered in the world, among which 94 were fatal, that is one person in every ten attacked. With the shark population drop in the last 15 years, the average of attacks of sharks in the world is now of the order of 35 a year, among which less than 4 are fatal.

We won’t compare these figures with estimates of sharks killed by the man every year...
Besides overfishing, a late sexual maturity and a long gestation, as well as a low rate of reproduction make sharks particularly vulnerable.

The only super-predator – the least adapted to his natural environment and who indeed threatens the planet by not wanting to adapt it to his true needs – is Man…

The TENDUA website will soon be updated with an article on “Sharks”, explaining their evolution through a better knowledge of their anatomy and physiology, the threats which challenge them as well as the objectives for their preservation and their indispensable role in the food chain.

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