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Oct 4, 2017

Work Continues on Managing Shark Population

Back in 2012, a national shark working group was established to devise a national plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks. That plan now provides for a framework for the management of domestic small-scale shark fishery. In order to build on what we know of the shark populations and their management, the Fisheries Department is hosting a three-day workshop to prepare a “non-detriment finding” for hammerhead shark species in compliance with international regulations. News Five’s Andrea Polanco was at today’s opening and has more on the event and the announcement of a first of its kind ray sanctuary.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

There are over fifty species of sharks in Belize and twenty species of rays – these underwater creatures are big tourist attractions. But a growing number of sharks are killed every year in Belize – the exact number or percentage is not known – some estimates put it at a few thousand every year. Sharks and Rays play important roles in our waters so the management and conservation of these animals are critical.

 

Demian Chapman

Dr. Demian Chapman, Associate Professor/Researcher, Florida Int’l University

“The killing of sharks and rays can be problematic for the eco-system because sharks fulfill a role as a top predator and if you remove a top predator often times it causes the eco-system to become unbalanced and you get all crazy changes. Rays – the ecological role is not well known except that we know they turn over the sediment and keep nutrients circulating in the system and they might help feed the corals and help feed fish and things like that, so they provide an important role sort of an ecosystem engineer.”

 

Protection for sharks and rays is still being developed to help these marine animals that are targeted.

 

Omar Figueroa

Omar Figueroa, Minister of State, Fisheries

“We are still trying to develop the protection and we have to give it – with rays we have to give it more protection. With sharks, there may be some that can still be harvested and that is why this workshop is extremely important because at one point harvesting becomes unsustainable; maybe put in seasons for these sharks and other ways that we can better manage the species better and give them added protection.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“I think one of the examples they cited was in Bahamas where there is absolutely no fishing of sharks; is this something that Belize would consider looking at?”

 

Omar Figueroa

“Oh, we definitely and that is why I am excited to look at the results of this workshop. Doctor Chapman provided some very important data. You look at where all these sharks are being ended up – the fins and how is being harvested. So, we definitely need to take a closer look at the way we manage our shark.”

 

Conservationists have long argued that living sharks are more valuable than those that are fished or killed. And for Bahamas, living sharks have proven so, so much that the fishing of sharks has been stopped for over twenty years. Since then healthy shark populations have encouraged “shark tourism” – helping the islands to generate about one hundred million US dollars every year. But for Belize shark fishing is still legal – only the whale and nurse sharks species are protected – but gill nets and long lines have proven to be destructive to shark population in Belize. So the aim is to create a balance because the shark fishing as it stands is unsustainable. One of the ways to do that is through the National Shark Working Group. In a three day workshop a plan will be developed to provide better protection for some shark species that are at high risk of being threatened. This will help to guide policies of the fisheries department.

 

Dr. Demian Chapman

“Dive a bit deeply into the management of hammerhead sharks; two species – the great hammerhead and the scalloped hammerhead and also the Silky shark and the Threshers. These are species that have international protection and Belize has international obligations to manage those species, which are particularly threatened, very, very carefully. So, we are meeting with fishermen, scientists and the conservation community and the fisheries department to put our heads together to come up with a common sense plan  that will enable us to meet this obligations.”

 

And as a move to protect vulnerable marine animals – the Fisheries Department announced that there will be protection for all species of rays. It is a first of its kind move according to Doctor Chapman:

 

Dr. Demian Chapman

“Belize should be congratulated for protecting all species of rays; this actually makes it the first country in the world that is specifically gone ahead and say that we are going to protect all species of ray and make it a ray sanctuary. This protection of rays is a big, big step and so globally I think it makes Belize a world leader in ray conservation.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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