Thursday, September 20, 2012

North Sea Shark Fishing: group funds new study for needed data

There are several "hot spots" throughout the planet's oceans when it comes to commercial shark fishing and the North Sea is one of them.  Off the British isles, sharks and even rays are taken, but there is a lack of scientific data to demonstrate what kind of impact the commercial boats are actually having on the shark and ray populations.

The European Fisheries Fund is now funding a new shark research program, Shark By-Watch UK, to the tune of nearly $325,000.  The purpose of the program is to use commercial fishing boats to gather data on shark and ray by-catch and participate in tagging and releasing sharks and rays back into the sea.

Shark By-Watch is to managed by scientists from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), which is dedicated to supporting sustainable fisheries.

Apparently, while arguments can take place regarding the decline of shark and ray populations in other parts of the world, there does not appear to be significant data that allows all interested parties - North Sea fishermen, conservationists, scientists - to effectively argue for sustainability except in the broadest of terms.  It is hoped this program will provide the data needed to successfully establish effective commercial shark and ray fishing policies. 

As reported in, Graeme High, European Fisheries Fund's England Deliver and Control Manager, said: "Such forward thinking measures are key to developing sustainable, economically viable fisheries and we were consequently keen to support this scheme. It is hoped this approach to research will promote greater industry involvement in future shark and ray assessments and will help determine practical ways forward for conserving local stocks. This work may also help fishermen to learn new skills – such as becoming competent tagging operatives.” 

I hope that their research will produce definitive data but I have come to be a bit skeptical of many efforts aimed at sustainability.  I often view it as a problem to which we are putting our finger in the dike, but the flood waters will continue to climb and ultimately breach the top.  When we catch fish, particularly slow reproducing species like sharks and rays, one fish taken from the wild is one fish too many.  Aquaculture - or aquafarming - for me, is the solution.

Perhaps that will be the final conclusion of the Shark By-Watch program, that shark and ray populations are too fragile to allow for any of viable commercial fishery.  Or perhaps science and commerce will strike a devil's bargain and commercial fishing will continue at some level, simply postponing the inevitable collapse of shark and ray populations in the North Sea.  Hard decisions need to be made, industries need to adapt and change, and it needs to be done now. 


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