Local shark numbers declining warns, DoE

| 23/10/2015 | 30 Comments
Cayman News Service

Tiger shark (Photo courtesy DoE)

(CNS): Marine researchers have found that the number of sharks found in local waters are lower than expected when compared to research conducted just a few years ago. Sharks have a key role to play in keeping reefs healthy with strong fish numbers and work is underway by a team from the Department of the Environment and Marine Conservation International (MCI) to monitor shark, snapper and grouper populations around Cayman and find a way to protect and enhance these important predators.

The project is funded largely by a Darwin Plus award and is part of a project to protect and restore key species and habitats.

“Sharks play a key role in keeping secondary predator numbers in line so that the reef fish, such as parrot fish, can continue to keep our reefs healthy by scraping off the algae,” said MCI’s Dr Mauvis Gore.

Sharks are valuable to the tourist economy. In a previous local study they were found to be worth around US$54 million per year to the economy, while catching and killing sharks was worth only US$1.6 million. The value was based on what tourists were willing to pay to have sharks on the reefs and the value tourists attributed to healthy shark populations as part of a healthy marine environment. The Bahamas earns about US$78 million per year from sharks on their reefs, with the value of a single live shark at US$35,000.

“Once a shark is dead, its value is used up,” said DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie. “A live shark continues to play a valuable role on the reef and provides economic worth to our economy year after year after year.”

The project also involves contacting fishermen and anglers for assistance with the populations of lagoon and mutton snapper, and tiger grouper. The team is working on the population numbers, the food these fish are living on and where they reproduce.

“We would like to ask fishermen and anglers that catch one of these snappers or grouper for fresh samples. That is the guts and gonads, a fin and if possible the back of the head for the ear bones to age the fish,” said DoE Deputy Director Timothy Austin. “If you give us a call, 949-8469, we’ll arrange to pick them up.”

The researchers will be tagging sharks as well as mutton and lagoon snapper and tiger grouper. Some will have a visible tag (an orange tag on the dorsal fin of the sharks) and some will have an electronic tag (a slim black cylinder inserted in to the belly cavity) that can be followed using the array of hydrophones the DoE has deployed around the Cayman Islands for tracking tagged marine life.

The Cuban government has also recently launched a long-term plan to protect shark populations around its shores, obliging fishermen to record and limit shark catches as well as creating new protected fishing areas. According to a BBC report, it is believed that some 20% of the world’s 500 shark species swim in Cuban waters. The programme director, Daniel Whittle, said shark populations in Cuba were sustained by relatively healthy coral reefs.

Anyone seeing or catching a fish around the Cayman Islands with any sort of tag is asked to contact the Department of Environment. For fish caught with the cylindrical internal tag there is a reward for the return of the tag and letting the researchers take a sample.

The researchers can be contacted by telephone 949 8469 or by email to DoE@gov.ky.

For more information about the local DoE research and reward programm visit www.doe.ky.

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (30)

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  1. SSM345 says:

    If these Scientists want to get a real grasp on shark numbers, they should be tagging along with local spear fisherman, because we all know that there are a sh*t load of them swimming around and you can normally only get one fish before you have to change locations due to the pesky Men In Grey Suits showing up and trying to steal your dinner.

    Furthermore, throw some food in the water anywhere in South Sound when the sun is setting and they show up within 5minutes, and will come up onto to the beach to get it. Conch season is due to start, and they know it.

    Lastly, prior to the DOE implementing a ban on fishing specifically for sharks, we used to catch them off the beach at Miss Lassies’ for fun (“to get a tight on a 300lb hand line”) and caught every major species apart from a Great White, from the beach. These people need to start proactively targeting people who can assist them in these studies.

    South Sound is loaded with sharks, they must have ben swimming along SMB when they did this study.

    • Mauvis Gore says:

      Thanks for your comments, it would be really helpful if you could contact us to give more details. We have been working around the islands and are concerned that what we are finding are a limited number of species and counts. Your knowledge is valuable in trying to get an overview of the sharks.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Local people declining too and they’re worried about the sharks. Maybe they’re talking about the land sharks. Interesting articles today. Sharks, glasshouse MLAs ….

  3. Anonymous says:

    I would like it made illegal to use the wire fishing line within 1 mile of shore line of the Cayman Islands. I have found 400 feet of this wire fishing line on the reef while diving and after gathering it up it made the size of a soft ball.

    You can’t tell me you need wire line for snapper. And don’t tell me that fishermen don’t come down here and say lets fish for shark.

    I have heard of many people who fear and loathe sharks and would happily kill every one possible, so education of young people is important.

    Oh and I loved the tiger shark photo.

    • Anonymous says:

      If a government ever banned wire line that would be the surest way to end a political career. That is for wahoo not shark. The only reason you found it as you did is because of bad driving.

    • Mauvis Gore says:

      Thanks for your comments and I agree that fear of the unknown looms large. Sharks play such an important part of healthy reefs and good fishing, getting to understand the relationship is important.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Locals kill and dump for no reason sharks eels rays because da no good just walk the shore and you will see the bodies floating up on shore with chop marks in them and the tails cut off

  5. Anonymous says:

    If you ask people who work at night or fish from shore sharks are passing by the shoreline searching for food. Including 7 mile beach. They have been spotted by divers who are going in unusual places as an entry point. They seem to be skittish around people .I have seen them going into the channel after 4 pm following Tarpon in the North Sound. I have seen up to 3 sharks following me to the shipwreck from shore ( Oro Verde) took a picture , the flash ran all of them away. I have seen west bay boys catching back tip 6 ft in front of Holiday Inn . I have been bumped at night on Kent’s Caves on SW point.
    I suggest you look for them using a helicopter close to the reef. You should get a better count then. Early around 6 am they come out going to deep reef.

    • Mauvis Gore says:

      That’s a good point, sharks do tend to be shy. For example, a colleague of mine working on white sharks in South Africa regularly sees them swimming between swimmers and the shore. What species are you seeing?

  6. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the posters who observe that Grand Cayman waters have never been known for large shark populations. Traditionally, more shark activity was observed in Sister Island waters, but not comparable to other tropical waters. This DoE information does not necessarily mean that shark numbers in local waters are declining through fishing. Sharks are very gregarious and seasonal and travel vast areas. DoE should pay attention to the shore fishermen who do not throw back the small and immature fish they catch!

    So it’s now illegal to catch sharks in Cayman waters. I support this initiative from a conservation point of view – if it were practical. Perhaps if there were a problem with shark attacks I would feel differently. However, this ban is unenforceable, for the most part. Anyone who has caught a large fish can attest to the fight they put up, sometimes they die in the process. What happens when someone hooks a shark and, a) they don’t know it’s a shark until they pull it in, b) it dies during the fight or c) they pull in a live shark? How many people will risk a bite to free it and release it? What will most likely happen is that it will be killed and dumped overboard. Sad! This ban will do nothing to prevent the catching of sharks which, for most fishermen, is accidental anyway!

    Perhaps the ban should have been addressed to sharks, warning them not to swallow hooks!! Just as ineffective and senseless as this stupid ban. As usual, our authorities take the legislative route without thinking of how their stupid laws will be enforced (or not). Add to that the poor (selective) enforcement of those laws which are practical and sensible!

    • Mauvis Gore says:

      In the 1970s, there were schools of hammerheads around Grand Cayman. Now you are lucky to find the occasional one. There was a huge shark hide industry based here some time back as well. So numbers were probably at a healthy level in the recent past.
      You have some very good points about trying to enforce the protection of sharks, do you have any suggestions on how to help?

  7. Anonymous says:

    I guess they were eating some of those tainted turtles dumped up in West Bay.

  8. Anonymous says:

    waste of time trying to to discuss this with caymankind……

  9. Anonymous says:

    The mathematics mentioned in this story sounds really out of whack. Same as those reef valuation joke of an exaggeration they tried to used in the argument against the dock.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Do we really need marine scientists from the UK or elsewhere………… to do a study in the Cayman Islands to tell us why less sharks are located here ?

    The most likely answer is those that we did have (Cayman Islands never really had much sharks in it’s history – ask any of he old Caymanians to confirm this) probably worked their way towards the Bahamas; where they are fed regularly and now shark feeding has become a popular tourism attraction. After all, how was Stingray City created in the 1950’s ?

    The Bahamas government and it’s people are making large sums of tourism dollars by allowing this type of attraction to be done.

    Have you heard of anyone being killed or seriously injured by shark feeding in Bahamas ?

    I haven’t.

    Is Shark Feeding illegal in the Cayman Islands ?

    Answer: Yes.

    Why ?

    Answer: Probably someone in DOE or one of our fat politicians had a bad dream of being bitten by a shark and fell off their bed.

    If you decrease the availability of food in the Cayman Islands, what do you think will happen to the people (human beings) living here ?

    Answer: They will go elsewhere by the thousands (same way they arrived) where food is more readily available……….. similar to sharks.

    • Anonymous says:

      The other thing that drives sharks away is over-development. In the 1970s and 1980s it was apparently (this is before I started diving out there) fairly common to see them in the Red Sea off places like Eilat, Dahab, Nuweiba and Sharm El Sheik but as that area became a prime tourist destination sightings dropped off effectively to zero.

      There were several shark attacks in Sharm El Sheik in 2010 but they were linked to the dumping of dead sheep in the surrounding waters, when that stopped the sharks also vanished.

      The bottom is the fact that these clowns can’t find any sharks doesn’t mean they’re endangered or anything like it – this is classic example of spinning the arguments to prove the case.

      • Mauvis Gore says:

        The Sharm el Sheikh problem was not dead sheep, this was a myth. Fish were being fed illegally from a hotel in a snorkeling zone, while the deep water snapper source that the sharks fed on nearby has been fished out. The sharks that came in were in poor condition. The National Park Service in Sinai worked quickly to discover what was happening and resolved the situation.
        The situation in Cayman is not whether the sharks are on the IUCN Red List, it is to work on sustaining healthy reefs. The tourism industry is based largely on the marine environment and local fishermen want to be able to continue to fish for e.g. snapper. To do this long term, the reef needs its sharks. You only have too look at your neighbour to see what happens when you do not.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes people, idiots like this walk amongst us.

    • Anonymous says:

      10.22, Einstein has nothing on you.

    • Anonymous says:

      Given that sharks have been around for 400 million years and the oldest Caymanian would only be 100 years, you can’t possibly ask old Caymanians how many sharks were here in the past and get a good answer. That is not how ecology works and is known as ‘shifting baselines’.

      • Mauvis Gore says:

        Sadly, you don’t have too look too far in the past to know when the reefs had healthy populations of sharks and other fish.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The word is on the reef, the’ve heard about the port

  12. Anonymous says:

    Damned if I know how they can tell. I’ve been diving these islands regularly since 1992 and, apart from the nurse variety, have only ever seen about a handful of sharks.

    In contrast they can be seen swarming in places like the Maldives and Palau. In the Bahamas and TCI you see not just a fair number but some impressively large species.

    If there is a problem here is it really something new or just that the research is flawed? How can you protect something that isn’t there in the first place?

    • Mauvis Gore says:

      The sharks were here in good numbers as recently as the 1970s. Sharks take a long time to recover as they tend to mature slowly, give birth to relatively few pups and have a long period between births. It can take years for a population to recover.

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